Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of taking ‘wrecking ball' to UK-Irish relations
UK Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused the British prime minister of taking a “wrecking ball” to relationships with the Republic and the EU with his controversial plan to unilaterally scrap aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Sir Keir is on a visit to Dublin to meet senior figures in the Dublin government to discuss the deepening row over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Boris Johnson’s government has revealed plans to introduce domestic legislation that would override parts of the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced plans to legislate last month and the Bill is expected to be published in the coming days.
This week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned that a British government move to legislate to override parts of the protocol would represent a “historic low point” in recent Anglo-Irish relations.
On a visit to Trinity College in Dublin city, Sir Keir said: “As someone who cares deeply about the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom, I’m concerned about the comments that have been made.
“Of course there are challenges with the protocol, but I think that we have faced much greater challenges than that in our shared history and I think we can deal with the remaining issues.
“We’ve faced bigger problems than this. With good faith, statecraft and trust around the negotiating table, which is what a Labour government would bring, these problems can be overcome. But a prime minister without those attributes taking a wrecking ball to the relationship is not going to help anybody.
“Trust is very important in all of this and this prime minister does not have the trust, or I fear he doesn’t have the trust, to negotiate in the way that I actually think would lead to a solution to the problems.”
Post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland will dominate discussions when Sir Keir meets with Irish political leaders in Dublin.
He also visited the Republic's oldest library at Trinity College and the Book of Kells exhibition.
Commenting on the prospect of the British government unilaterally scrapping parts of the protocol, Sir Keir said the Labour Party believed in upholding international law.
“There are challenges that need to be overcome but I start, and the Labour Party starts, with the principle that we believe in and will always uphold the Good Friday Agreement, and we believe in and will abide by international law,” he added.
“The single biggest barrier at the moment is a prime minister who doesn’t have those attributes, who is distracted, is divided, he’s doing everything he can to save his own skin rather than focusing on the issue here, which is how do we get people around negotiating table, flexibility on both sides so we can overcome the remaining problems.”
Sir Keir said there is a long shared history between Ireland and the United Kingdom, adding that the Good Friday Agreement is one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government.
“I am here to assure everyone I speak to, of our renewed commitment to the Good Friday Agreement which is as relevant today as it was the day it was signed and to make the commitment against the backdrop of a Government led by Boris Johnson which is divided and frankly taking a wrecking ball to relations between Ireland and the UK,” he added.
The Labour leader is also meeting President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Micheál Martin later today.
His first visit to the Republic while at the helm of the Opposition comes as the British government proposes controversial legislation to override the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Sir Keir, who will visit Belfast as part of the trip, is also meeting with Dublin's Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.
The leader of the Irish Labour Party Ivana Bacik will also hold a meeting with Sir Keir in the Irish capital.
Tomorrow, the Labour leader will be in Belfast to meet political leaders in Stormont, where he is expected to call for compromise and negotiation to end the political deadlock over the return of the powersharing Executive.