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Boris Johnson sees ‘legislative solution’ to Brexit protocol deadlock – POLITICO

BELFAST – Britain will introduce “a legislative solution” to post-Brexit trade tensions in Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday during a visit to a part of the UK where he is widely mistrusted.

Johnson spent the afternoon talking behind closed doors with separate delegations from the five-party Northern Ireland’s crumbling government, a cross-community coalition at the heart of the region’s 1998 peace deal.

He received a public welcome from only one party: the Democratic Unionists, who campaigned for Brexit – and are now blocking any resumption of power-sharing unless Johnson meets their demands.

The DUP insists it will not resume cooperation with the Irish nationalist part of the community unless Johnson backs down from the trade protocol struck just two years ago with the EU. Most trade unionists despise the way the protocol requires EU checks on UK goods arriving at Northern Ireland ports from the rest of the UK, a condition which they say treats Britain Britain as a foreign country.

After his talks at Hillsborough Castle in south-west Belfast, Johnson claimed to have found common ground between the DUP and the other parties.

‘None of them like the way it works,’ Johnson said of the protocol, part of the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement that keeps Northern Ireland inside the market single EU for goods to maintain unimpeded trade with the neighboring Republic of Ireland. , member of the EU. “They all think it can be reformed and improved. … The question is how do you do that.

After a week of briefings to the London media, Johnson confirmed that his Foreign Secretary Liz Truss would indeed announce the government’s intention to publish a bill which would act “as insurance” against an EU refusal to concede changes to protocol rules.

While Johnson declined to be specific about timings, British officials told POLITICO that Truss would make the announcement in the House of Commons on Tuesday, although no legislation is expected to be released.

“We would like to see this done in a consensual way with our friends and partners, ironing out the issues, stopping some of these east-west barriers,” Johnson said, referring to the EU requirement for customs checks and sanitary on incoming goods. to Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

“But to get that, to have the reassurance, we need to do a legislative fix at the same time,” Johnson said in response to questions from Channel 4, the only broadcaster authorized by Downing Street to interview him during his visit. .

“We don’t want to remove [the protocol], but we believe this can be fixed. In fact, five of the five parties I spoke to today also think it needs reform,” he said, adding that changing the protocol rules – with or without accepting of the EU – would “protect and preserve the Government of Northern Ireland”.

Leaders of every other party besides the DUP, as well as protesters outside the castle shouting as his motorcade passed, accused Johnson of not taking their views seriously. They said the UK government should confront and overrule DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, not coddle or get along with him.

Donaldson, who since winning the DUP election last year has made scrapping the protocol his party’s top priority, said he welcomed what Johnson had told him.

“We have waited a long time for this moment. We have waited a long time to see the government come forward with proposals that represent action to resolve the problems created by the Irish Sea boundary,” Donaldson said, adding: “We cannot have power-sharing without consensus. This consensus does not exist.


Sinn Féin – the Irish nationalist party that first overtook the DUP in last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections – has accused Johnson of working behind the scenes with Donaldson to block a strengthened Sinn Féin of power at Stormont and prevent the consistent application of EU standards at the ports of Belfast and Larne.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Johnson “is fully prepared to act in coordination with the DUP, with very unacceptable obstructionist tactics”.

“It seems absolutely extraordinary to us that the UK government is proposing to legislate to break the law,” McDonald said of Truss’ expected announcement. “It is an extraordinary proposal and one that would amplify the bad faith with which the Conservative government has conducted itself since the start of the whole Brexit debacle.”

While Donaldson accused Sinn Féin of spouting “childish nonsense”, the Center parties agreed with the Irish Republicans, accusing Johnson of a pro-DUP bias that made a revival of local government in Northern Ireland less likely.

Moderates have called on the UK to redefine power-sharing rules, not protocol, so that it is impossible for a single party to block government formation. These rules require the two largest British Unionist and Irish Nationalist parties to form a mandatory coalition, while the other parties are optional extras.

“The Prime Minister must indicate that he is open to institutional reform, remove the possibility for any party at the top to veto the establishment of the assembly and the executive and to take hostage the people of Northern Ireland,” said Stephen Farry. d’Alliance, the only party actively organized on both sides of the community. He made the largest electoral gains, more than doubling his number of assembly seats, but remains almost irrelevant under existing power-sharing rules.

Farry described the Alliance meeting with the Prime Minister as “very frustrating” as it “left a lot of questions hanging in the air”.

“We have given him a very clear warning that if he plays fast and loose with protocol, and indeed the Good Friday Agreement, then he is going to add more and more instability to Northern Ireland,” said Farry.

He said Alliance expects Truss to release details of a bill that “would give the UK government the power to set aside aspects of the protocol. It could well be a threat put on the table and something that may not be used in the end. But it will make a deal with the EU harder, because it will build belligerence, not trust.

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