Northern Ireland news

Boris Johnson has ‘betrayed' people of Northern Ireland – Sir Keir Starmer

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer (centre) and Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Louise Haigh (left) speak with PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne at their headquarters in Belfast. Picture by Peter Morrison/PA Wire 
Rebecca Black and James Ward, PA

Sir Keir Starmer has accused the British prime minister of having “betrayed” the people of Northern Ireland.

The Labour leader was speaking during two days of official engagements in the north accompanied by shadow secretary of state Louise Haigh.

Reflecting on having worked in Northern Ireland for six years with police in the early 2000s, Sir Keir said he learned the importance of trust and the role of the British government as an honest broker, bringing communities together.

There are tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol, with unionists claiming the additional checks on goods are placing a border down the Irish Sea.

There have been demonstrations against the Protocol as well as legal challenges to it.

Sir Keir told the PA news agency in Belfast that Boris Johnson had “not been straight about the consequences” of the Protocol.

“He is now pretending it is someone else’s problem, and in Northern Ireland that won’t wash,” he said.

“There has to be a practical way forward on this, I think there is a practical way forward if the parties are flexible and negotiate, but the most important thing is trust.

“There is a positive future here but it does require the British government to properly understand its role, and I think that this prime minister, Boris Johnson, has betrayed the people of Northern Ireland by not properly honouring that (the British government being an honest broker), and the words that have been used in pretty well every meeting I have had here in Northern Ireland is a lack of trust in the prime minister as an honest broker.

“That is a massive missing piece.”

Sir Keir visited Forge Integrated Primary School in Belfast this morning before meeting PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne at police headquarters in the city.

Speaking ahead of meetings with the political parties at Stormont, the Labour leader said the Good Friday Agreement and its promise of peace must “never be taken for granted”.

“Returning to Northern Ireland today, I can see how much is still at stake,” he said.

“The peace here was built on the trust, courage and commitment of the communities of Northern Ireland and political leaders. I felt that while working here in the years after Good Friday. And it is with those values in mind that I will go into today’s important meetings.

“This morning, I saw the transformation that peace helped bring about at an integrated school in Belfast. I saw the smiles of hope from young people as they look to the future. Whether we are in Westminster or Stormont, as political leaders we owe it to that generation to deliver on the promise of the Good Friday Agreement.

“We must recognise that trust is fragile, and progress is stalling. I understand the concerns of communities and businesses here about the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol. I’m here to listen and to call for serious, practical solutions.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party discussed legacy issues and the Northern Ireland Protocol during their meeting with Sir Keir at Stormont.

He welcomed the visit to listen to the political parties and people from across the community about what the "real issues are on the ground".

Mr Eastwood said he expressed his opposition to a reported intention by the British government to offer "amnesties" to former soldiers and paramilitaries and "trying to block access to truth and justice for victims".

"Our view is that cannot be allowed to stand, we will resist it at every single turn," he said.

On the protocol, Mr Eastwood said Boris Johnson "has to get his head around that you can't have a hard Brexit and also avoid checks in the Irish Sea".

"He can't pretend that he didn't understand what was in the protocol that he negotiated, that he signed, that Lord Frost negotiated. They can't pretend that they don't know what was in that," he said.

"They now have to face the reality."

Earlier in an opinion piece in The Times, Sir Keir called on the British government to negotiate a deal on veterinary standards that could reduce the needs for checks in the Irish Sea.

“The recent extension of the grace periods was welcome, but that is not a durable solution,” he said.

“Over a quarter of all trade to Northern Ireland is currently subject to onerous ‘SPS’ checks, largely on food and agricultural products.

“The UK and EU need to work out a veterinary standards agreement to bring assurance to the people of Northern Ireland and benefit food exporters across the UK.

“The United States has been clear that a veterinary agreement is not a fundamental barrier to signing an FTA.

“The prime minister promised an agreement of this kind during trade negotiations with the EU. Yet, where countries such as New Zealand and Switzerland have succeeded, he failed.”

The Dublin government has said an agreement on SPS, similar to that between Switzerland and the EU, could eliminate 80% of checks.

Sir Keir said he understood the concerns of the unionist community and businesses in the region about the barriers introduced by the Protocol, but added that it is now time for solutions.

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