Northern Ireland politicians are being told to ‘get back to work’ by Boris Johnson, keen to resolve the post-Brexit trade impasse.
The Prime Minister is due to travel to Belfast on Monday for crisis talks after the DUP blocked the election of a Speaker in the Stormont Assembly, preventing him from sitting.
power sharing in Northern Ireland has been suspended since the election earlier this month.
The system was introduced in the 1990s in an effort to end decades of violence and is a requirement of the country’s government. The prime minister and the deputy prime minister must be a unionist, a nationalist.
Government sources said Mr Johnson would use a series of private meetings to deliver a ‘hard message’ that any ‘solution’ to post-Brexit trade protocol must involve the parties coming together to form an executive and assembly.
He is expected to say that while the UK government will ‘play its part to ensure political stability’, politicians must ‘get back to work’ so they can answer the ‘bread and butter questions’ for voters.
Ahead of his visit, however, Sinn Fein – which is now the largest party in the Assembly after the May 5 election – accused the Prime Minister of being “in cahoots” with the DUP and supporting its “tactics of blockage”.
“Dangerous edge of the abyss”
Sinn Fein chairwoman Mary Lou McDonald said: “It’s very dangerous, it’s reckless, it’s a tightrope game, very cynically led by a Conservative government in London which doesn’t care about the island of Ireland, north or south.”
The DUP is fiercely opposed to the protocol as it requires checks on goods from Britain to Northern Ireland, in order to keep the border with the Republic open in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement.
What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why is it important?
British ministers have repeatedly said they will act unilaterally if an agreement cannot be reached to reduce the impact of checks, which have been accused of hitting businesses and fueling community tensions.
In talks with party leaders, Mr Johnson is expected to say that while the government will ‘always keep the door open for real dialogue’ it will be ‘necessary to act’ to protect the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) if there is no change in the EU’s position.
He will insist that the government never suggested scrapping the protocol and will acknowledge that there will still need to be a treaty governing the UK’s relationship with the EU in relation to Northern Ireland in order to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic.
However, he will say the ‘delicate balance’ of the GFA has been upset, eroding the historic economic ties between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, leaving the Unionist community feeling their aspirations and identity threatened. .
Ireland is not “a pawn”
But speaking on Saturday following a meeting of Sinn Fein’s governing council in Dublin, Ms McDonald said the UK government had still failed to act in “good faith”.
“Let’s be clear, the protocol leads nowhere. The protocol is a necessary outcome of Brexit which the Conservative Party and the DUP campaigned for,” she said.
“The UK Government cannot use Ireland as a pawn, we will not be collateral damage in the Brexit negotiations.
“It is very clear that the Conservative government in London is in cahoots with the DUP to block and hold back progress, to thwart the will of the people as expressed in the election and that, to anyone calling themselves a Democrat, is clearly unacceptable and clearly ashamed.”
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