Martin and Johnson to meet tomorrow amid NI protocol tensions

The meeting will take place at Chequers, the British prime minister’s country residence

Taoiseach Micheál Martin greets British prime minister Boris Johnson at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast last August. Photograph: Brian Lawless/AFP via Getty Images

Taoiseach Micheál Martin greets British prime minister Boris Johnson at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast last August. Photograph: Brian Lawless/AFP via Getty Images

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is to travel to the UK and meet with the British prime minister Boris Johnson on Friday.

The meeting will take place at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence.

The two leaders are expected to discuss Northern Ireland in the light of recent unionist and loyalist unrest over the protocol to the EU-UK withdrawal treaty, which has led to some barriers to trade between the North and the rest of the UK. They are also likely to discuss wider British-Irish issues and the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement confirming the meeting issued on Tuesday afternoon, Government Buildings said that the meeting had been arranged some time ago, and would cover “the response to Covid-19, a range of issues relevant to peace and stability in Northern Ireland, and the broader British-Irish relationship”.

Tensions with unionism over the protocol – which was agreed by the EU and the UK government last Christmas – were partly responsible for internal criticism in the DUP of party leader and Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster.

Ms Foster announced her resignation following the challenge, resulting in a leadership contest in the DUP which culminates on Friday.

Both candidates, Edwin Poots and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, have said they will not operate the protocol, though it remains part of British law.

Earlier this week Lord David Frost, the British cabinet minister in charge of relations with the European Union, warned that the current operation of the protocol is not sustainable for long. And in a hint at further unilateral action, he said Britain would “continue to consider all our options”.

Mr Frost’s first action on taking up his post earlier this year was to unilaterally extend grace periods for some checks and procedures introduced by the protocol for goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland.

The European Commission has taken legal action in response to the move but there were signs of progress in recent weeks as Mr Frost and commission vice-president Maros Sevcovic sought agreement on how to ease the bureaucratic burden on businesses without risking the integrity of the EU single market.