Fionnán Sheahan: 'BoJo show sees the future as lame duck Leo shut out'

Before our last general election in 2016, Fine Gael was so enamoured with the Tories that it tried to copy the then successful David Cameron election campaign playbook.

The former British prime minister advised Enda Kenny’s strategists to talk up the economy and stick to the plan even if it seemed not to be working.

Fine Gael lost nearly 30 seats as the voters rejected ‘Keep the recovery going’.

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Interactions between the parties have cooled since, as the small matter of Brexit entered the equation and soured Anglo-Irish relations.

Nonetheless, the bromance between Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar did blossom on Merseyside last October, leading to a breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations.

After a stonking win in the British election, BoJo is cock of the walk.

Ahead of calling a general election this week, Leo is a lame duck.

The imbalance of power was reflected in the interaction between the two leaders.

BoJo put on a show as he turned up in Stormont to welcome the restoration of power-sharing after three long, redundant years.

The Northern parties thought he was coming to Stormont with his cheque book as London was supposed to back the deal with cash. Before his arrival, the first row of the new regime had broken out. The DUP and Sinn Féin had a spat over the possible introduction of water charges in the North. Before the end of the day, all sides were agreed on no water charges.

Sinn Féin finance minister Conor Murphy said the £2bn (€2.3bn) being spoken of coming from London would not be enough. The suggestion was £1.5bn-£2bn was on the table.

The prime minister failed to put his money where his mouth was.

All the parties got was patronising pats on the head for getting back to work – at last.

In the main hall of Stormont, before an audience of children from Dunloy St Joseph’s Primary School on a tour or parliament, he spoke admiringly about the leadership shown. He said it was now up to the parties to make it work.

He mocked the utterance of his predecessor Tony Blair who said about the Good Friday Agreement that: “I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders.”

“Never mind the hand of history…I see the hand of the future,” Johnson said.

However, the prime minister did not provide any figures for the amount of money to be provided by the British government to Northern Ireland. With his usual bravado, he batted on questions about the cash-for-ash and amnesties.

On the forthcoming arrival of Brexit, Johnson said there could be checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland if they are coming south of the Border after Brexit. He pitched the responsibility on to the trade negotiations with the EU, being handled by Ireland’s European Commissioner Phil Hogan.

“Be in no doubt… I don’t foresee any circumstances whatsoever in which there will be any checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to GB.

“The only circumstances in which you’d imagine the need for checks coming from GB to NI was is if those goods were going on to Ireland – and we had not secured, which I hope we will, a zero tariff, zero agreement with our friends and partners in the EU,” he said.

Above the great hall, in a cramped corridor, Leo was left with just a few short minutes to stand alongside the great man before the cameras. It didn’t match the statesman image he’s trying to portray in the general election.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who brokered the deal, was left as a bystander.

The only hint of a general election came when Varadkar said he looked forward to a North-south ministerial council “as soon as we have a new government in place south of the Border”.

Varadkar said he looked forward to beefing up east-west co-operation between the UK and Ireland, the UK having a new relationship with the EU and a new trade deal in place.

In the Blair-Bertie Ahern era, the leaders would come to Belfast to give negotiations a push across the line.

The purpose of BoJo and Leo coming to town when all the hard work was done was unclear. All everyone really cared about was the Sandringham summit between Prince Harry and the queen.

Unlike Leo’s solidarity stance with Harry and Megan last week, Boris wasn’t biting when asked for his view.

“I really don’t comment on stuff to do with the queen.”

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