Boris Johnson: No Border poll for ‘very long time to come’

UK prime minister tells BBC programme he will ‘sandpaper’ rather than scrap protocol

Boris Johnson in a still from BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight special

Boris Johnson in a still from BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight special

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

Boris Johnson has declared there will be no referendum on the reunification of Ireland for “a very, very long time to come”.

The UK prime minister has also insisted his government will try to “sandpaper” rather than scrap the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit withdrawal agreement to get rid of “ludicrous barriers” to internal UK trade.

Speaking to BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight for a special show on the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland, Taoiseach Micheál Martin will also denounce an early Border poll as “explosive and divisive”.

Mr Johnson tells the show, which airs on Tuesday evening, that rather than Irish reunification, he would prefer the UK to think collectively about what it can do together.

Describing himself as “a proud unionist”, he says he will be celebrating the centenary this year, although he acknowledges nationalists have felt excluded for much of the time.

Mr Johnson’s remarks that he wants to tweak the Northern Ireland protocol – which puts a de facto trade border for goods on the Irish Sea to avoid a hardening of the Border in Ireland – is likely to frustrate unionists who are battling to overthrow it.

But he also warns of further steps, including a threat to invoke Article 16 to temporarily suspend the clause, if the EU persists with strict checks on goods moving between Britain and the North.

The checks had always been intended to be light touch, he will say.

‘Explosive’ referendum

The withdrawal agreement specifically mentions the North’s integral place in the UK internal market, but current arrangements do not conform with the deal, agreed between London and Brussels, Mr Johnson will argue.

Mr Martin will tell the show he expects a completely different political reality on the island in another century, while rejecting demands for an early reunification referendum as “very explosive and divisive”.

Micheál Martin in a still from the programme
Micheál Martin in a still from the programme

He will say it is not helpful to stipulate dates and he “much prefers to see the meat on the bone, and for me, the meat on the bone is real engagement, real discussions, real opening up.”

The Taoiseach will also argue that claims the protocol is tearing the UK apart are overly dramatic, adding that unionists were originally going to work with it, before critics “drowned out” the voices of business, farming and education who see its advantages.

Spotlight has commissioned a cross-Border opinion poll for the special in which people are asked about scrapping the protocol, the threat of resurgent violence and how much longer the North will remain in the UK.