Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill has accused Boris Johnson of “misleading the DUP” and aiding the party in preventing the formation of a new executive.
O’Neill took part in a 45-minute meeting with the UK prime minister yesterday, which he described as a “difficult” and “strong” exchange of ideas.
He said the DUP was undermining the Northern Ireland Protocol in an effort to prevent the formation of a new Northern Ireland government and that Boris Johnson was backing the party’s actions.
“There is only one party which is preventing the formation of an executive after the election,” she said.
“We have contested that election, received our results 11 days ago and since then we are being denied the opportunity to be an executive and begin to respond to life crises, the cost of additional health services and the DUP that Everyone is stopping and they are being supported by Boris Johnson and it was very important that he heard it loud and clear.
Speaking on RTE Morning Ireland programme, Ms O’Neill said Boris Johnson had taken “choreographed steps” to “give DUP cover”.
He said his action was not acceptable because the people of Northern Ireland have voted for all parties in the state to work together.
Ms O’Neill said Mr Johnson would plan to “break international law” today “to make matters worse”.
She said Mr Johnson explained yesterday that his government intended to “override” the protocol and negotiate in parallel with EU officials.
“This is not the way to do business. This is not the way to get an agreed way forward. Of course with political will… issues can be resolved with protocol but it involves engagement between two negotiators in this scenario and Discussions are involved, which are the British Government and the European Commission, but unfortunately… the British Government is going down this route of threatening to legislate to nullify an international agreement,” she said.
Ms O’Neill said the UK government was entering “very dangerous territory” and that Northern Ireland would suffer if a UK-EU trade war broke out.
Speaking on the same event, European Commissioner for Financial Stability Mairead McGuinness said there has been a lot of “spin” on the part of the UK government, but there is political will on the part of the EU to address issues with the protocol.
She said “hidden threats” do “very little” to help the people of Northern Ireland and hoped the UK leader would not announce “tough unilateral action” today.
However, about the possibility of sanctions if the UK breaches the agreement, Ms McGuinness said the EU “won’t start talking trade wars”.
It comes as the UK’s foreign secretary is expected to announce her intention to bring forward legislation on Northern Ireland that covers parts of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal.
It is understood Liz Truss will make the announcement in a statement to the Commons after a plenary cabinet meeting today, in an effort to restore power-sharing in the region.
Controversy over the Northern Ireland Protocol has stymied efforts to form a new executive in Stormont, with the Democratic Unionist Party refusing to join the administration until its concerns over the arrangements are addressed.
The majority of legislators in Stormont’s newly elected assembly represent parties that support maintaining the protocol, with many arguing that the arrangement protects the region from some of the negative economic consequences of Brexit.
They also point out that traders in Northern Ireland tend to sell in the EU Single Market as a major advantage of the protocol.
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The move to rewrite parts of the deal could risk a trade war with the EU.
But a UK Foreign Office source said “it is not about choosing a fight with the EU”, adding that Ms Truss’s priority is to maintain the Good Friday agreement.
“They are inspired by the peace process and working in the interests of Northern Ireland,” he said.
It is understood Ms Truss’s ambition is to have legislation in parliament within a few weeks and certainly before the summer.
But the supposed overwhelming preference remains a negotiated solution.
The Global Britain (Strategy) Committee, which considers matters relating to the UK’s business priorities, will meet first today, followed by the full Cabinet, before Ms Truss makes her statement to the Commons.
Last evening, the UK Foreign Secretary met with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and the Vice President of the European Commission, Maros Sefkovic.
In both, Ms Truss said she underscored the importance of upholding the Good Friday Agreement and re-establishing the Northern Ireland Executive.
Mr Sefkovic later said that engaging with the “flexibility” offered by the EU would be preferable to acting unilaterally on the protocol.
He tweeted: “By political will, practical issues arising from the implementation of the Protocol in Northern Ireland can be resolved.
“Joining us on the flexibility we provide would be a better approach than unilateral action. We are ready to play our part right from the start.”
It comes after the UK Prime Minister traveled to Belfast to meet with leaders of the Stormont parties in an attempt to secure progress.
He also used Monday’s visit to issue a warning to Brussels that Britain was ready to unilaterally rewrite the terms of the Brexit deal signed by him.
Mr Johnson described that plan as an “insurance” policy if a new deal with the EU could not be struck.
The threat of unilateral action in European capitals has already loomed large, with EU leaders urging the UK government to participate fully in talks.
Yesterday Taoiseach Michael Martin said the only way to resolve the dispute was through “adequate talks” between Britain and the EU.
Additional reporting by PA.