Poor judgment from Liz Truss

For many years, successive British governments have attempted to give the impression that they are neutral and detached observers when, as regularly happens, serious differences emerge between the main Stormont parties.

A very different picture was presented at the weekend when this newspaper set out the full details of the meeting between the UK's foreign secretary and chief Brexit negotiator Liz Truss and loyalist figures in Belfast last week.

Ms Truss was fully entitled to travel from Westminster on Thursday for discussions with first and deputy first ministers, Paul Givan and Michelle O'Neill, of the DUP and Sinn Féin respectively, as well as business leaders, about the latest developments in the protocol negotiations, and it would have entirely appropriate if those talks had concluded her programme.

However, she inexplicably also decided to personally engage with the Orange Order grand secretary Mervyn Gibson, the independent unionist councillor John Kyle and a representative of a restorative justice group at its office off the Shankill Road, failing to notify Belfast-based news organisations and instead inviting along a camera crew from the pro-Brexit GB News station.

Ms Truss could not have been unaware that she was visiting a hugely sensitive area of a bitterly divided city without making any effort to reach out to nationalists based a few hundred yards away on the other side of what is infamously known as a peace wall.

She must have known that other loyalists were involved in street disturbances along the same road, involving the burning of a bus, attacks on the police and confrontations with nationalists in orchestrated but short lived protests over the same protocol only a matter of months ago.

While Mr Kyle has taken a courageous stance by accepting that there are positive aspects to the protocol for all sections of the community, it is verging on the astonishing that he and the Orange Order were given priority over serving ministers from Alliance, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists.

What was particularly striking was that secretary of state Brandon Lewis effectively gave his endorsement to the actions of Ms Truss by joining her bizarre trip to the Shankill but neglecting to insist that she should take a balancing two-minute drive to the adjacent Falls Road.

Ms Truss appears to be in denial over the fact that a majority of MLAs support the protocol, and her one-sided intervention is likely to have damaging long term consequences.