Johnson signals unilateral action on Northern Ireland protocol

Johnson insists post-Brexit deal will not be scrapped but ‘fixed’ after visit to North

British prime minister Boris Johnson has signalled that his government will begin the process of taking unilateral action to remove parts of the Northern Ireland protocol – while insisting the post-Brexit deal will not be scrapped but "fixed".

Mr Johnson travelled to the North on Monday to meet the five main political parties in a bid to restore Stormont power sharing, which effectively collapsed last Friday after the DUP blocked the election of a Speaker as part of its continuing protest over the protocol.

Following talks in Hillsborough Castle described by parties as “tough” and “robust”, Mr Johnson said he tried to persuade the DUP “in particular” to return to governing.

Britain’s foreign secretary Liz Truss is expected to make a statement on the UK government’s plans to unilaterally override parts of the protocol, the part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement which avoided a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea.

Despite warnings such a move could trigger a trade war with the European Union, Mr Johnson said on Monday they would press ahead even though his preference is to reach a negotiated solution.

“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,” he said.

“But to get that done, to have the insurance we need, we need to proceed with a legislative solution at the same time.

“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.”

‘Placating the DUP’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described her party’s meeting with Mr Johnson as “very tough” and accused the UK government of “placating the DUP”.

Speaking to reporters, a visibly angry Ms McDonald said she received “no straight answers” from Mr Johnson on either the protocol or restoration of Stormont.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed Mr Johnson’s visit but said he would “suspend judgement” until he has sight of the British government’s proposals – which he will judge by actions, not words. Insisting he wanted a return to a “fully functioning executive”, he added: “We cannot have power-sharing unless there is a consensus. That consensus doesn’t exist.” He dismissed the idea that the British government is taking sides, saying that was “for the fairies”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin called for “substantive talks” between the EU and the UK, but was critical of the British government, saying the EU had already made concessions but that there had been “little reciprocation” from the UK government.

Elsewhere, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told journalists “We have enough confrontation on the continent of Europe at the moment”. He was speaking after he met the EU’s lead on the protocol Maros Sefcovic.

“There are solutions to many of the issues that have been raised particularly from the Unionist community,” he said.

“So let’s get our teams back into the negotiating rooms”

The President of the European Council Charles Michel said any unilateral action by Britain on the Protocol would “undermine its international legal obligations” and is “clearly not welcome all the more so in these difficult geopolitical times”.

Legacy legislation

Mr Johnson was booed and jeered by some 200 people as his cavalcade arrived at Hillsborough. Protesters included campaigners for Irish language legislation, anti-Brexit activists and victims’ campaigners opposed to the British government’s proposed legislation for dealing with legacy cases.

Legislation is expected to be introduced today that will offer the possibility of an amnesty for Troubles-related crimes to those who co-operate with a new information recovery process.

Families of the 11 people killed by British soldiers during the Ballymurphy massacre in west Belfast in 1971, are fiercely opposed to the new legislation. John Teggart, whose father Danny was among those killed, said it will have a “big impact” on relatives who led a 50 year campaign for justice.

“This plan is not victim led. It is an attempt to try to close the door on what I believe are war crimes,” he told The Irish Times.

Later on Monday, Mr Johnson told a private meeting of the Conservative Party in Belfast on Monday that nobody was satisfied with rotocol and that it had to be changed.

He told a gathering at the five-star Culloden Hotel that the chief rabbi of Belfast’s Jewish community had told him during the meeting on his visit to the North that the protocol had affected the supply of kosher food into Northern Ireland because of the checks on food products entering the country.

According to a source in attendance, Mr Johnson told the event that it was ridiculous that customers could not buy the same products in Tesco in Belfast as they could at a Tesco in England.