Northern Ireland news

Johnson faces 'robust' exchanges with parties during meetings over protocol and powersharing

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill and MP Conor Murphy pictured at Stormont for their meeting with Boris Johnson. Picture by Hugh Russell
Paul Ainsworth

STORMONT parties have expressed frustration with Boris Johnson following meetings with the Prime Minister during his visit to the north.

Mr Johnson flew to Belfast yesterday for crisis talks with the parties after stating he would be delivering a "tough message" to them about restoring the Executive and insisting it was time to "get back to work" for MLAs.

The visit comes as the British government is preparing to introduce legislation to undermine parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP has said it will not return to the Executive without the removal of the Irish Sea border and changes to the protocol that has imposed it.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said, following his meeting with Mr Johnson, that his party has been "reasonable and patient", but added it was "time for action" on the protocol.

"Not one unionist MLA supports the protocol. That makes it impossible for power sharing to operate," Sir Jeffrey said.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson with MP Gavin Robinson and MLA Edwin Poots. Picture by Hugh Russell

"Progress is only made in Northern Ireland with the support of unionists and nationalists. If no nationalists supported the protocol, Washington, London, Brussels and Dublin would be demanding change. If this protocol had resulted in checks, costs and charges between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, there would be outrage.

"The DUP has a mandate to see the protocol replaced with arrangements that restore our place within the UK internal market. Our mandate will be respected.”

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said her delegation received "no straight answers really from the British Prime Minister", and criticised any move to act unilaterally on the protocol.

"We have said directly to him that proposed unilateral act of legislating at Westminster is wrong," she said.

"It seems to us absolutely extraordinary that the British Government would propose to legislate to break the law. It's an extraordinary proposal and one that would amplify the bad faith with which the Tory government has conducted itself from beginning of the entire Brexit debacle.

"We have told him very clearly that we are here to do business. The people have spoken. We have had the election, the votes have been counted, the die has been cast. Michelle O'Neill is the first minister in waiting and we want to get on with things and get back to business."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said his party's meeting with Mr Johnson was "frustrating" with "robust exchanges".

Alliance MP and deputy leader Stephen Farry. Picture by Hugh Russell

"If he is serious about getting the institutions up and running again, he needs to be straight with the DUP," Mr Farry said.

"In particular, he needs to indicate the need for reform and to remove the ability from any party at the top to veto the establishment of the Executive and assembly."

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Johnson's words and actions "makes it impossible to trust the Prime Minister".

"He has recklessly used this place to serve his own narrow political interests and once again he is on the verge of overriding the interests of the majority of people here for his own ends," the Foyle MP said.

“I accept and acknowledge that for some people, the operation of the protocol has posed a difficult and fundamental challenge to their identity. I regret that they feel isolated. It was my preference that no new borders emerged anywhere on these islands but Boris Johnson, cheered on by the DUP, opposed every effort to avoid new barriers.

He added: "This farce cannot continue. People need and deserve the power of government working to address the challenges they face."

UUP leader Doug Beattie said after his meeting with the PM: "If the UK government takes steps tomorrow or this week to fix some of the issues that we see with the protocol, it is important that we then nominate a speaker and we get back to government and start doing the work."

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