Boris Johnson went to Belfast on Monday to try and find a solution to the frustration in Northern Ireland over the protocol which he agreed to back in 2019 (Photo: LIAM MCBURNEY via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson has promised he will do all he can to fix the issues triggered by the Northern Ireland Protocol – but he seems to have forgotten that he’s actually the person who agreed to it.
The prime minister negotiated the agreement, which introduced checks on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, back in 2019.
He hailed it as a breakthrough, considering negotiations about the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU had come to a standstill over Northern Ireland and a potential “backstop” pushed by his predecessor, Theresa May.
Although Johnson has vowed to resolve the crisis, he continues to blame the EU for the way the bloc has implemented the protocol, while simultaneously downplaying his own role in signing up to it.
But not many people are letting the prime minister get away with it that easily. He was cornered on Monday by various journalists who reminded him that he once championed the withdrawal agreement, which includes the protocol, as a “great deal”.
The BBC’s political editor Chris Mason said: “The reality of what you’re dealing with today in Northern Ireland is a direct consequence of the deal you signed,” to which Johnson replied honestly: “Yes, absolutely.”
If you’re confused about the Brexit protocol chat, here is 8 seconds which makes clear whose fault it is pic.twitter.com/pV1uH5Zauj
— Matt Chorley (@MattChorley) May 16, 2022
Then Channel 4′s Paul McNamara took a firmer line, telling Johnson: “Two years in, this deal, this protocol has caused the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly, economic hardship for firms in Northern Ireland and now needs a major revision.
“Prime minister, you must be furious with whoever signed off on a deal this bad.”
Johnson said that his priority was getting the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running, adding that “not a single one” of the five political parties he spoke to liked the protocol. He did not point out that many of these worries were first raised by politicians back in 2019.
Johnson continued: “Yes, I agreed it, but I agreed it on the basis that it protected the Good Friday Agreement, it protected the East-West strand of the agreement.”
The Good Friday Agreement is the 1998 peace deal which ended the violence in Northern Ireland by ensuring the devolved government could only operate by giving a voice to Unionists and Nationalists.
He said that he was also under the impression that it would protect the UK internal market, and “that was the reason I went for it, because it seemed to me like those were things that our friends in the EU would mean sincerely”.
McNamara replied: “But you can’t be surprised by any of the bits you don’t like at the moment.
“Pretty much all of them were in the impact assessment papers.”
Johnson said “of course” he had read them, but added: “I hoped and believed that our friends would not necessarily want to apply the protocol in quite the way that they have.”
Striking that this is the first time I can remember Johnson being questioned about the protocol in this way. https://t.co/JghuWsSwvd
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) May 16, 2022
Johnson was put on the spot during a visit to Belfast, in which he spoke to the leaders of all five main political parties in Northern Ireland.
His trip came ahead of foreign secretary Liz Truss today setting out the government’s plans for legislation to over-ride the parts of the protocol it disagrees with.
But the PM’s diplomatic attempts in Belfast did not go smoothly.
Sinn Fein, which ended up with most seats at Stormont following the recent Northern Ireland elections, said they had received “no straight answers” about the protocol’s future.
The party also expressed concern that abandoning elements of the protocol would “amplify the bad faith with which the Tory government has conducted itself from the beginning of the entire Brexit debacle”, while claiming Johnson was just trying to placate the DUP.
The DUP - who have refused to enter into a power-sharing executive with Sinn Fein unless their concerns about the protocol are met - said there needed to be “decisive action” from the government.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, said: “That means I want to see the government enacting legislation that will bring the solution that we need. But let’s see what the Government are prepared to do.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.