Cheese and union: Johnson defends Brexit deal in NI Tayto factory

On a visit to Tandragee, the UK prime minister speaks of ‘good relations’ with DUP

Boris Johnson checks a potato with quality control staff during a general election campaign visit to the Tayto Castle crisp factory in Co Armagh. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool/AFP via Getty

Boris Johnson checks a potato with quality control staff during a general election campaign visit to the Tayto Castle crisp factory in Co Armagh. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool/AFP via Getty

 

UK prime minister Boris Johnson on a visit to the Tayto factory in Tandragee on Thursday evening sought to reassure unionists and loyalists that his Brexit agreement with the EU was a “fantastic deal”.

He also gave a huge plug for Tayto crisps, recounting how he scoffed a big “sack of them” in Downing Street, while perhaps also annoying potato crisp makers in Britain.

Mr Johnson indicated that he was aware of some loyalists’ opposition to his Brexit deal and their fears that it created a border down the Irish Sea, just as he was aware of the DUP’s antagonism. He said it was a “fantastic deal for Northern Ireland”, although he felt there had been “some misunderstanding” about how it would work.

He said there could be tariffs on a “small minority of goods” coming into the EU from Britain via Northern Ireland and “the reason for doing that is to avoid having a hard border”.

“If that does not work for any reason, if people don’t like those arrangements, then in four years’ time it can be voted out by a majority in Stormont,” he added.

Notwithstanding DUP grievances about his Brexit deal, Mr Johnson said he had “very good relations with and respect for Arlene [Foster], for Nigel Dodds, for Jeffrey ... and all the guys in the DUP”.

Mr Johnson hesitated a little and appeared to not quite get Jeffrey Donaldson’s surname correct. He stressed that “whatever happens, I am a passionate, passionate believer in the union. I think it is a great, great thing, and we have got to stick up for that. We will see what happens on the other side of the election, but we have a good partnership with the DUP.”

Powersharing

On his relationship with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Irish Government, and the prospects of reinstating powersharing, he said: “It is very important that everybody works together to get Stormont up and running. There is a role for Dublin, there is a role for London, but there is a much more important role for the parties here in Northern Ireland. We will all be wanting to see some progress there.

“I am going to be devoting a huge amount of energy, if I am returned, to getting Stormont back up and running,” he said, adding that Northern Ireland was an “amazing place” but it needed a “proper government to champion the interests of the people of Northern Ireland”.

When informed that one of the translations from the Irish of Tandragee was “arse to the wind”, he said he understood it was “back to the wind”.

Asked was the wind behind his campaign, he said it was “early days” but that the Conservatives would be fighting for every vote. “There are 35 days so I am not counting my chickens.”

Love of crisps

As for why he had picked the Tayto factory for his Northern Ireland visit, he explained it was because he loved their crisps. “I was in Belfast and somebody literally gave me a huge sack of them, and I took them back to Downing Street and I ate most of them myself, I am ashamed to say.”

For the record, his favourite flavour was cheese and onion.

Mr Johnson was “very surprised” to hear that Mickey Brady, the Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh which includes Tandragee, complained he was not informed of the visit. Mr Johnson’s understanding was that the protocol was that he should be informed. One of his aides explained that the protocol did not apply as parliament was dissolved.

Mr Johnson also had difficulty recalling, or perhaps knowing, Mr Brady’s name but did say, “I did not mean any discourtesy to the honourable member... who does not take his seat.”