In Wales, he was criticized for not having a plan to prevent the most severe repercussions of a no-deal Brexit, especially for Welsh farmers. Mark Drakefield, Wales’ First Minister, said that Johnson demonstrated a “deeply concerning lack of detail.”
And in Northern Ireland, which faces the gravest consequences of no deal — the erection of a hard border with the Republic of Ireland and the terrifying reality of a return to the dark days of sectarian violence — Johnson was greeted by protesters holding up signs saying that “Brexit means borders.”
He is also personally unpopular in the province after comparing crossing the border to traveling between London boroughs — glibly dismissing the decades-long conflict in which more than 3,000 people died. His cavalier attitude to the Northern Irish peace process continued during his leadership election campaign when he seemed ill informed about the intricacies of reviving suspended power-sharing arrangements.
This is a problem for a prime minister who is staking his premiership on two things: delivering Brexit, come what may, on October 31 and uniting his country.
Preserving the Union is critical to the party that Johnson now leads, formally called the Conservative and Unionist Party. However, Unionism isn’t as fashionable as it once was among the UK’s electorate — and that’s become especially true after the Brexit referendum.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if no deal (Brexit) ends being looked at by historians as the event that breaks up the UK,” says Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester. Ford explains that the strongest support for Brexit comes from English nationalist voters, who don’t care much for the Union. “They regard it as not very interesting. And when they view it as an obstacle to Brexit, they will see it as something to throw under the bus.”
So, in England, the most populous and powerful part of the UK, Brexit is more closely aligned to a England-first/Britain-first cause. This is where things get interesting.
Across the Irish Sea, things look very different. The most vocal pro-Brexit support in Northern Ireland comes from Unionists, who see any kind of separation from the UK mainland as unthinkable. If it comes down to the choice of a border between the Republic of Ireland or a sea border with Britain, it’s going to be the former, every time.