Johnson criticised for lack of ‘straight answers’ on Northern Ireland protocol
A man dressed as a customs officer and another dressed as Boris Johnson with protesters from Border Communities Against Brexit outside Hillsborough Castle
May 17 2022 02:30 AM
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was roundly criticised by politicians in the North and here in the Republic after he hosted a series of crisis meetings on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Johnson held talks with the main political leaders in the North at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down.
However, the majority of those who met the prime minister criticised his stance on the post-Brexit trade deal which is preventing the establishment of the Stormont Executive following the recent elections in the North.
Only the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is refusing to re-enter the devolved government due to its opposition to the protocol, was not overtly critical of Mr Johnson’s stance on the Brexit trade deal.
It comes as the UK government is set to introduce legislation that would allow Mr Johnson to override parts of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland and in doing so break international law.
Sinn Féin leader in the North Mary Lou McDonald said she had a “fairly tough” meeting with Mr Johnson and got “no straight answers” from him.
“If the DUP are acting shamefully in holding back government, well then the British government is behaving even more shamefully,” Ms McDonald said after her meeting with Mr Johnson.
“The unfortunate thing is that the British government now is playing a game of brinkmanship with the European institutions, indulging a section of political unionism which believes that it can hold a veto and frustrate and hold society to ransom,” she added.
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DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson accused Ms McDonald of “puerile nonsense” and called on Mr Johnson to take decisive action on the protocol so as to restore political stability in the North.
“I’m hoping that the government are going to do the right thing and help restore a consensus in Northern Ireland to address the very genuine and real problems that have been created by the Northern Ireland protocol,” he said.
Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said his meeting with Mr Johnson was “very frustrating”.
He said there had been some “robust exchanges” between the prime minister and his party leader Naomi Long.
“If he is serious about getting the institutions up and running again, he needs to be straight with the DUP,” Mr Farry said.
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood also described his meeting with Mr Johnson as “robust”.
“While I welcome his call for the resumption of power sharing, the gulf between Boris Johnson’s actions over the last two years and his words today is so great that it makes it impossible to trust the prime minister,” he said.
“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,” he added.
In Dublin, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was “unacceptable” that the DUP was preventing a parliament from convening.
Mr Martin called for “substantive talks” between the UK and the EU as the DUP refuses to enter a new power-sharing government unless significant changes are made to the protocol.
“The idea now that a parliament is being prevented from convening is very difficult to comprehend,” he said.
“The people spoke, the people elected their representatives and at the minimum it seems to me that an assembly should be established.
“It’s really unacceptable that efforts have been made essentially to prevent convening of a democratically elected assembly, or a democratically elected parliament.”
The Taoiseach spoke on the phone to European Council President Charles Michel yesterday, and discussed the recent elections in Northern Ireland.
Mr Martin also met Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, who is poised to become First Minister of Northern Ireland.
“We’re all agreed that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement should be established,” he said.
He said US President Joe Biden has made it clear that he is “just phone call away” if there is a need for support and that he supports the Good Friday Agreement.
The Taoiseach also said the issues of health, housing and cost of living, which the people of Northern Ireland voted on, are now not being dealt with.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney insisted there are solutions to the issues raised by the DUP and British government around the protocol.
He said businesses in the North want certainty and the European Commission is open to providing solutions without any “rancour and tensions” so all sides can move on from the debate.
He said there has not been any real engagement between the UK and the EU on the protocol since February.
“So let’s get our teams into the negotiating rooms and hammer out agreements.”