Northern Ireland news

Boris Johnson says he hasn't seen the letter from loyalists withdrawing support for the Good Friday Agreement

Boris Johnson on a Zoom call with journalists in Belfast yesterday

BORIS Johnson has not seen a letter sent by a loyalist umbrella group withdrawing support for the Good Friday Agreement.

The correspondence from the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) was said to have been sent to No 10 more than a week ago, with a copy also mailed to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

The letter from the umbrella group, which purports to represent the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, called for the Irish Sea border to be replaced.

It was signed by LLC chairman David Campbell, a former chair of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Asked by The Irish News yesterday whether he planned to respond to the letter, Mr Johnson confessed that he'd yet to see it.

"I haven't personally seen the letters but I'm sure the relevant people will have received them and will be responding to them," he said.

Asked about the groups' decision to withdraw support from the 1998 peace accord, Mr Johnson said he hoped they would not follow through.

"I very much hope that they won't and our objective is to uphold the Good Friday Agreement and to restore the symmetry that that agreement relies on," he said.

He said he understood the concerns of loyalists.

"As for members of the loyalist community or people who feel undermined by the protocol, well that's exactly the issue that I intend to resolve because I want to keep the interests of both communities in balance and to make sure that we look after everybody in Northern Ireland," he said.

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said it was "perhaps not unsurprising" the Tory leader hadn't seen the LCC letter.

"That until recently – and that waits to be seen– he has been peddling the line that there was no Irish Sea Border, he has, so far, shown a distinct lack of interest in all things Northern Ireland," the South Antrim MLA said.

"As the prime minister sets his stall as a unionist that should now mean that he should at least look in his in-tray occasionally."

Mr Johnson said he was unaware of any contingency plan being put in place in the event of the British courts ruling that the protocol is unlawful.

There is understood to be at least three separate legal challenges against the Irish Sea border, the most high profile of which is led by former UKIP MEP Ben Habib, Baroness Kate Hoey and TUV leader Jim Allister, with support from the two main unionist parties.

The prime minister questioned whether judgments in those cases could override an international treaty, but acknowledged that legal question required further exploration.

"Can a court strike down an international treaty, and I'm not certain that they can," he said.

He voiced hope that the issues could be ironed out without court challenges.

"Before we get to other people's legal actions against the protocol, what we want to see is to work with our friends in Dublin, in Brussels, to make sure that we iron this thing out, because at the moment it feels to me like it's not operating in the way that it's intended to do," he said.

"It's there to protect the EU single market but also the UK single market and the Good Friday Agreement, and all we're looking for is some balance and some common sense.

"There are more immediate ways of addressing the issues with the protocol and more practical and commonsensical ways than doing it through the courts."

Mr Johnson reiterated his warning that he would move to suspend elements of the protocol - by invoking Article 16 to the arrangements - if it proved impossible to resolve the current issues.

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