IN BRUSSELS – Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s opposition to Britain’s latest Brexit deal with the European Union has been met with indifference in Brussels, where officials and observers say his position is irrelevant.
Mr Johnson indicated on Thursday he will find it “very difficult” to vote for Rishi Sunak’s deal on the Northern Ireland protocol, but he is seen by EU figures as just one MP amongst 650 in parliament.
Thijs Reuten, a Dutch MEP, said Mr Johnson’s stance showed he was not interested in finding a solution for Northern Ireland.
“This is yet again a worrying sign of the old Tory infighting and putting personal political interests before the jobs and livelihoods of ordinary citizens,” he said.
“We aren’t following what he or any individual MP is saying,” one Irish official said. “We’re looking at the bigger picture. We’re interested in the measures that can be passed by the government.”
While Mr Johnson has a notorious reputation in Brussels for promoting Brexit, picking fights with the EU, twisting facts and reneging on his own Withdrawal Agreement, he is now largely seen as a discredited figure.
Fabian Zuleeg, the chief executive of the European Policy Centre, said the former prime minister was no longer on the EU’s political radar.
“It doesn’t really matter for Brussels what he thinks,” he said. “It only really matters if the current prime minister can carry this through – and it looks like he can do it. So Boris Johnson’s position doesn’t matter – especially since it’s really about promoting Boris Johnson and not solving the issues for Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile former European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker described Mr Johnson as a “piece of work” and Mr Sunak’s deal as a “real breakthrough”.
“I like him as a person. He’s funny, but he’s serious nevertheless,” Mr Juncker told LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr. “And I had better relations with all the prime ministers of Britain I’ve known, starting with John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, even David Cameron, then mainly Theresa May, who was a lady,” he said.
“And Boris Johnson was a piece of work, someone you cannot categorise, in normal definitions, but I liked him as a person.”
He described the Windsor Framework as a “real breakthrough” and said it gave EU institutions more authority than it appeared.
“I think that the European Commission will have more authority than it seems. And as the European Court of Justice has been reconfirmed in its role as an arbiter when it comes to internal market questions concerning Northern Ireland,” he said.
“So I think that although the deal is giving a response to the major British concerns there is a part of European Union in the deal some in Britain are trying to hide.”