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Thursday, October 6, 2022

Johnson faces post-election headaches after Tory losses and Sinn Fein triumph

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B

oris Johnson faces pressure from Tory MPs and a potential constitutional crisis over Northern Ireland in the fallout from a bruising round of elections.

Sinn Fein’s victory in the Stormont contests was the first for a republican party and “ushers in a new era” of politics, vice president Michelle O’Neill said.

Her party is committed to a border poll on unification with Ireland, although that is not a likely prospect in the short term.

But her hopes of becoming first minister in a powersharing executive hinge on the unionist DUP, the second largest party, joining an administration – something it has ruled out unless there are major changes to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit deal.

The deadlock will increase tensions between Westminster and Brussels, with the UK insisting all options remain on the table – including the possibility of unilaterally scrapping elements of the deal.

That could trigger a major breakdown in relations between the UK and European Union.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis urged the parties to work to form a new “fully functioning devolved government”, but said voters “want the issues around the protocol addressed”.

The protocol effectively creates checks on goods flowing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in order to allow an open border with Ireland, which is within the EU’s single market and customs union.

Ireland’s Europe minister Thomas Byrne said “a decisive majority” of the MLAs elected to Stormont want to make the protocol work and called on the UK to “engage in a renewed way with the European Union” on the issue.

As well as the prospect of a fresh round of Brexit battles with Brussels, Mr Johnson also faces pressure from his own benches to change course following Thursday’s elections.

Writing for The Telegraph, former cabinet minister Damian Green, leader of the influential One Nation Conservatives caucus of MPs, said the party must “rediscover the virtues that appeal to natural Conservatives in strong Conservative areas”, including reducing the tax burden to help those struggling with the rising cost of living.

From the right of the party, former Cabinet minister Sir John Redwood called for tax cuts and warned governments “are usually only swept from office when the economy goes into recession on their watch”.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove suggested that a decline in home ownership may have contributed to the party’s troubles in London, where flagship authorities in Wandsworth and Westminster fell to Labour after decades of Tory control.

He told the Sunday Telegraph: “There is a particular challenge for us in London and I think that challenge in London relates to … home ownership.

“There are other factors. But I think that for young people in London, there is a responsibility on the incumbent government to address some of the factors that have made it more difficult for them to own their own home.

“That’s one lesson that I would draw at this stage. The other one is that the Labour Party doesn’t seem to have made anything like the progress outside of London, that you would expect an opposition to do if it was on course for victory.”

After results from 198 out of 200 councils, the Tories had suffered a net loss of 12 authorities and 401 councillors, Labour had gained seven councils and 240 seats, the Liberal Democrats five authorities and 188 councillors.

Labour is facing its own difficulties after police announced a probe into whether leader Sir Keir Starmer broke lockdown rules last year.

Sir Keir, who denies any wrongdoing, said the elections were a “turning point” for Labour.

He told reporters on a visit to Scotland: “We did really well, we won in the north (of England). I was in Cumberland, Carlisle, yesterday where we won, we won in the south in Southampton, we took seats in London people said we would never take, did really well in Wales and here in Scotland, the best results for a decade.”

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