Starmer says Johnson has ‘not been straight about consequences’ of protocol

British Labour party leader on two-day visit to Northern Ireland with Louise Haigh

British Labour party leader Keir Starmer with shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh in  Belfast. Photograph: Peter Morrison/PA Wire

British Labour party leader Keir Starmer with shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh in Belfast. Photograph: Peter Morrison/PA Wire

 

The British Labour party leader Kier Starmer has accused UK prime minister Boris Johnson of having “betrayed” the people of Northern Ireland and said there was a “lack of trust in the prime minister as an honest broker”.

Mr Starmer was speaking during the first day of a two-visit to the North along with the shadow Northern secretary Louise Haigh.

He met the five parties in the Northern Executive at Stormont on Thursday afternoon, and earlier met the Chief Constable Simon Byrne at PSNI headquarters and visited an integrated primary school in Belfast.

Mr Starmer told PA news agency that Mr Johnson had “not been straight about the consequences” of the Northern Ireland protocol, which is opposed by unionists because it places an economic border in the Irish Sea.

“He is now pretending it is someone else’s problem, and in Northern Ireland that won’t wash,” he said. “There has to be a practical way forward on this, I think there is a practical way forward if the parties are flexible and negotiate, but the most important thing is trust,” he said.

“There is a positive future here but it does require the British government to properly understand its role, and I think that this prime minister, Boris Johnson, has betrayed the people of Northern Ireland.”

Ms Haigh said that during their meetings with the North’s political parties they had discussed a deal on veterinary standards which would reduce the need for checks in the Irish Sea, and added that there had been “relative consensus that is part of the solution”.

“It’s not the only thing but ultimately we need to see the British government getting back round the negotiating table with the European Union and using the mechanisms of the protocol to find that agreement,” she said.

“It is not a sustainable solution to keep proposing unilateral mechanisms and unfortunately that’s what we anticipate will happen in the next couple of weeks from [Brexit minister] David Frost.”

The DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he had emphasised the flaws in the protocol to Mr Starmer and Ms Haigh and urged them to “work with us as we seek to deal with the flawed Withdrawal Agreement and restore Northern Ireland fully within the UK internal market.”

The Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, said she agreed a veterinary agreement was “the way forward”.

“There was a lot of common ground there in relation to the protocol, we had a good conversation with him today,” she said of Mr Starmer.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Johnson “has to get his head around that you can’t have a hard Brexit and also avoid checks in the Irish Sea”, while the Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said a veterinary agreement “would go a long way to addressing many of the checks across the Irish Sea and defusing tensions”.