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Simon Coveney warns Boris Johnson leadership woes could impact protocol talks

British prime minister Boris Johnson, speaks after surviving an attempt by Tory MPs to oust him as party leader following last night's confidence vote in his leadership. Picture by PA Wire 

Dublin's foreign affairs minister has expressed his concern that divisions within the Conservative Party could impact on UK-EU negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Simon Coveney said this morning: "If those divisions within the Conservative Party impact on Ireland, because the prime minister or the British government decides in order to maintain support within the party that they have to take a tougher line on Brexit, or on the Northern Ireland Protocol, well then obviously divisions in the Conservative Party and in the British government impact on Ireland.

"And of course, that's where we have a concern."

He told RTÉ radio: "So whoever is the British prime minister, we will work with them, of course, but what we don't want to see is Ireland being part of a strategy to maintain support within the Conservative Party in the context of hardening a position on the Northern Ireland Protocol."

Conservative MPs had been urged not to use Northern Ireland as a "pawn" in their decision on whether or not to support Boris Johnson remaining as their party leader.

Last night's poll of Tory MPs saw 211 vote to keep Mr Johnson as prime minister with 148 voting to oust him.

Ahead of the vote taking place, politicians from the north weighed in to the debate.

Foyle MP Colum Eastwood described the prime minister as someone "uniquely unfit to hold public office".

The motion was triggered by 54 Westminster Tories submitting letters of no confidence in Johnson following the 'partygate' scandal and his handling of the subsequent report into Number 10 parties during Covid lockdowns by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Yesterday Conservative MPs backing the PM came out ahead of the vote to voice their support, among them Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis.

In a tweet, Mr Lewis said Mr Johnson "has my full backing in today's vote".

The Great Yarmouth MP added: "He got the key big decisions right on Covid, Brexit delivery & supporting Ukraine. He has apologised for mistakes made and we owe it to our constituents to focus on delivering to make lives better."

Mr Coveney said the British government had not shown the necessary "seriousness" to reach an agreement on the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.

He said the UK government was instead "threatening to publish legislation this week which would effectively be using British domestic law to breach international law by setting aside elements of their treaty obligations".

Mr Coveney added: "That would be a big mistake I think politically, because I think it'll cause an awful lot more problems than it solves.

"I certainly hope that's not the price of the British prime minister maintaining majority support within his own party."

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