NI Protocol needs fixed says Boris Johnson after meetings with leaders

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Boris Johnson at Thales weapons manufacturer in Belfast during a visit to Northern Ireland for talks with Stormont parties. Picture date: Monday May 16, 2022. Image: PA
Boris Johnson at Thales weapons manufacturer in Belfast during a visit to Northern Ireland for talks with Stormont parties. Picture date: Monday May 16, 2022. Image: PA

BORIS Johnson has described legislation to tear up the Northern Ireland protocol as “insurance” and said the trade agreement needs to be “fixed”.

The Prime Minister was speaking after a day of meetings with the leaders of the country’s five main political parties, where he sought to make progress on the impasse over the post-Brexit arrangement.

While the DUP and Ulster Unionist party were more positive about the meeting, Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party said they had left feeling frustrated.

Mr Johnson said his government did not want to “scrap” the protocol, which sees goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain subject to extra checks, but said it can be “fixed”.

He said: “We don’t want to scrap it. But we think it can be fixed. And actually five of the five parties I talked to today also think it needs reform.”

When it was suggested that threatening to tear up the Protocol in the middle of a cost of living crisis could deepen trade issues and the impact on consumers, Mr Johnson said: “What we’re doing is sticking up for the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and what we’re doing is trying to protect and preserve the government of Northern Ireland.

“And yes, you’re right, there’s a cost-of-living issue, but that’s certainly not being helped by extra barriers to trade, extra burdens on business that are being caused by the protocol.

“And it certainly won’t be helped if we have a situation where the Executive isn’t up and running in Northern Ireland.

“You need the Executive, you need the Assembly, and that is what the people of Northern Ireland want us as politicians to focus on.”

The DUP has refused to form a power-sharing executive with Sinn Fein, the country’s largest party, if the protocol is not amended or ditched completely.

Sinn Fein’s president Mary Lou McDonald accused the UK government of “shoring up the DUP’s bad behaviour” and said the party was holding the country “ransom”.

However the DUP said the suggestion was “puerile nonsense” and the party was “attacking everybody who doesn’t agree with them”.

When asked if he had tried to convince DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to form a government in Stormont, the Prime Minister said “you bet”.

He said: “I think everybody should be rolling up their sleeves and get stuck in to the government of Northern Ireland.”

“The province has got so much going for it but you need leadership and you need government.

“So you bet I said to the DUP in particular ‘We want to see you back in the executive, we want to see you nominating, we want to see a speaker in the assembly’, of course.

“The issue they have is that they object to the operation of the protocol. We don’t want to scrap it, but we think it can be fixed.”

Mr Johnson also described plans to legislate in order to rip up the protocol as “insurance”, adding: “None of the parties – I spoke to all five parties just now – not one of them likes the way it’s operating, they all think it can be reformed and improved – from Sinn Fein to SDLP, DUP, all of them.

“The question is how do you do that? We would love this to be done in a consensual way with our friends and partners, ironing out the problems, stopping some of these barriers east-west

“But to get that done, to have the insurance, we need to proceed with a legislative solution as well.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is due to make a statement tomorrow regarding domestic legislation, discussed the situation in Stormont in a call with Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi this afternoon.

The prospect of the UK ripping up elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol has caused unease in Washington and ministers have made efforts to build bridges with senior figures in the US.

Following her call with Ms Pelosi, the Foreign Secretary said: “I reiterated the UK’s commitment to protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and the importance of getting the NI Executive up and running.

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