BoJo to Visit Belfast for Key Talks Amid Escalating UK-EU Tensions Over Northern Ireland Protocol
Earlier this week, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned the EU that Britain stands ready to set aside key elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol within days. The relevant legislation might be unveiled by the UK government on Tuesday.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make an emergency visit to Belfast amid the escalating tensions over the Northern Ireland (NI) protocol, which worsened after the unionist DUP party blocked the election of a speaker at Stormont.
The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein last week overran the DUP in the Northern Ireland Assembly election for the first time, prompting unionists to warn they will boycott the new government unless post-Brexit trade rules with the EU are addressed.
On Friday, The Independent cited Sinn Fein first minister designate Michelle O’Neill as saying that she was expecting Johnson in Northern Ireland on Monday, when she will tell him to “stop pandering to the DUP,” in other words, refusing to join a power-sharing executive while the NI protocol is in place.
The Sinn Fein leader added that she would also tell Johnson that his government “need to get on and work with the [European] Commission and find ways to smooth the implementation of the protocol and stop holding us to ransom for their game-playing”.
She argued that Northern Ireland was being used as “a pawn in the middle of a battle between the British government and the EU”, but insisted that the protocol was “here to stay”.
“They are playing a game of chicken with the European Commission right now, and we are caught in the middle. That’s not good enough”, O’Neill said.
12 November 2021, 11:50 GMT
Downing Street has yet to confirm BoJo’s visit and if it does, “it is understood that the PM will focus on talks with the Northern Irish parties to try to get power-sharing arrangements back on track”, according to the Independent.
As for the protocol, Johnson previously made it clear that he was serious about his threats to rip up the document. He told the Daily Mail that “there is the issue of the protocol” and the government is “going to have to fix it”.
“And I think we can certainly fix it in a way that is in there that protects the EU single market totally, but stops totally unnecessary barriers to trade”, he said.
When asked if he was bluffing about overriding the agreement, the PM said, “I’m certainly not bluffing in my concern about Stormont and where we need to go. We need to get it back up and running”.
He spoke amid reports that Cabinet ministers have drawn up a legislation to allow the UK to override elements of the protocol, which could be unveiled early next week and might lead to a trade war between the UK and the EU.
Brussels accused London of issuing “threats and blackmail” after British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic that the UK would have “no choice but to act” if the EU does not give in to demands to scale back customs checks.
Attorney General Suella Braverman, the UK government's chief legal adviser, for her part did not deny reports that she had already approved the scrapping of large parts of the protocol with emergency legislation. She told the BBC that the need for UK action was “becoming painfully, apparently necessary”.
The remarks came as Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency Jacob Rees-Mogg blamed the EU for trying to make Britain “feel bad about having left the European Union”.
“And that underpins its whole policy and it doesn't really mind about the consequences of that. We just have to get on with life and recognise that we have left. We have to make our own way. We are an independent country, and what the EU wants and thinks is secondary”, Rees-Mogg argued.
Under the NI protocol, Britain agreed to leave some EU rules in place in Northern Ireland and accept checks on goods arriving from elsewhere in the UK to preserve an open land border with EU member state Ireland as a key pillar of the peace process there, hailing back to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The deal, also known as the Belfast Agreement, ended decades of violence in conflict-torn Northern Ireland, establishing devolved power-sharing in the area and a demilitarised Irish border.
Unionists have repeatedly called for the protocol to be scrapped because of the trade barriers it has created on products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.