NI protocol row: Varadkar playing ‘fast and loose’ over powersharing, says DUP

MLA Gordon Lyons accuses Tánaiste of behaving like ‘bull in a china shop’ following his blistering attack on UK government

The DUP has accused Tánaiste Leo Varadkar of behaving like “the proverbial bull in a china shop” following his blistering attack on the UK government’s handling of the Northern Ireland protocol, and claims it “sided” with unionists.

East Antrim DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said Mr Varadkar’s comments were “essentially a call for majority rule” at Stormont. The Tánaiste described Number 10 as being “disrespectful” and placing unionist interests ahead of those of the North’s population.

In an interview broadcast on Thursday with BBC Northern Ireland’s The View programme, Mr Varadkar cited a letter written by MLAs to the British government urging it not to proceed with the controversial Bill to scrap parts of the post Brexit trade deal, saying it was ignoring the “democratic” views of a majority of parties.

The DUP has repeatedly said it will not nominate ministers to allow a new Stormont Executive to be formed until the UK takes action on its concerns around the protocol.

Mr Varadkar said he believed the UK is “not being even-handed” over the matter.

But Mr Lyons claimed the Tánaiste has “consistently played fast and loose” with the principles of powersharing.

In a statement to The Irish Times, he said: “Leo Varadkar should reflect on the ideology of powersharing and if he has no interest in the views of unionists then he should just be honest and call for majority rule.

“He has consistently behaved like the proverbial bull in a china shop when it comes to powersharing. His latest BBC interview was essentially a call for majority rule. If that’s his considered position then, as the incoming taoiseach, he should be honest about his ultimate departure from the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements.

“Rather than trying to build a consensus and work for an outcome that unionists can support, Leo Varadkar ignores the fact that no unionist MLAs support the protocol. Progress has only ever been in Northern Ireland with the support of unionists and nationalists.”

Meanwhile, a Tory MP has insisted the UK government wants to face challenges “in friendship and in partnership” with Ireland.

Northern Ireland Office minister Conor Burns said Dublin is the UK’s “closest” partner in Europe, after Mr Varadkar said he had “never seen relations as bad” with UK ministers as currently.

Asked for his response to the comments, Mr Burns said the UK government has been “very clear that we want a negotiated solution to the protocol”.

He told reporters in Belfast: “We want to engage with Dublin. We want to engage with the EU. We’re very clear that we want a negotiated solution to the protocol.

“But in the absence of a wider mandate from [European Commission] vice president (Marcos) Sefcovic, we have really little alternative other than to pursue that legislative route that we’re doing now.

“I don’t believe in conducting these sort of discussions on the airwaves, but Dublin are our closest partners in Europe, we share so many things in common, we have so many interests and challenges that we face together and we want to face those in friendship and in partnership.”

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times