Johnson gave his take on Major’s NI policy at lunch with Irish diplomat

State papers: The future British prime minister was said to have written ‘naively’ on the North

Future prime minister Boris Johnson described the British government’s approach to the peace process in 1995 as a “little on the right side of stalling”.

Johnson, then a journalist, told an Irish diplomat that then prime minister John Major was determined to move cautiously in the process, primarily because of the fear of unrest from the Tory backbenches or from unionist politicians.

Recently returned from Brussels where he had been the correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson was now political correspondent of the Spectator as well as being a columnist for the Telegraph.

At a lunch in London with Colin Wrafter of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Johnson described his own politics as “Thatcherite and Eurosceptic”.


In a confidential note to the head of the Anglo-Irish Division, Seán Ó hUiginn, Wrafter said Johnson told him he had incurred the wrath of Charles Moore, the Sunday Telegraph editor, and Margaret Thatcher’s official biographer, for an article in the Spectator that spring.


Johnson had argued that the framework documents, which provided the basis for the nascent peace process, had been “deliberately pitched by the British in the nationalist direction so as to ensure that a final settlement would be much more sensitive to unionist concerns”.

The ploy would allow big concessions to be made to the unionists in the final settlement, he suggested, to show the British government was protecting their interests. The IRA ceasefire had been announced the previous August.

Wrafter also noted that Johnson “has written approvingly, if naively, of the Northern Ireland Tories in his weekly column in the Telegraph”.

He said the lunch took place immediately before the announcement in April 1995 by the British government that it would commence ministerial talks with Sinn Féin.

He wrote: “It says something for the standing of the Daily Telegraph that he knew what the British government would announce that afternoon and that his lobby colleague Phil Johnson had time to travel (from London) to Belfast for Minister Ancram’s briefing at 5pm.”

That was a reference to Northern Ireland minister Michael Ancram who announced there would be talks with Sinn Féin that day.

Deliberately slow

On Johnson’s view of the deliberately slow pace of the British government’s approach to the peace process, Wrafter wrote: “Boris made one remark of which you may wish to be aware: the prime minister is determined to proceed with the peace process at a pace just a little on the right side of ‘stalling’.

“In this he was reflecting a view widely held by political journalists in Westminster. While the prime minister wants history to acknowledge his role in helping to bring about peace in the North, he is determined to move cautiously in order to avoid the risk of exposing himself to Tory backbench unrest or outright unionist opposition.” (Archive ref: 2021-97-24)

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times