Britain’s Johnson urges end to Northern Ireland stalemate, row with EU
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson travels to Northern Ireland to try to break a political stalemate that prevents the formation of a regional administration
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson travels to Northern Ireland on Monday to try to end a political stalemate that is preventing the formation of a regional administration.
The trip comes amid threats from the Johnson government to break the Brexit deal with the European Union which it blames for the crisis.
The Democratic Unionist Party came second and refuses to form a government, or even allow the assembly to sit, until Johnson’s government removes post-Brexit controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Under power-sharing rules put in place as part of the Northern Ireland peace process, a government cannot be formed without the cooperation of the nationalist and unionist parties.
Johnson will urge Belfast’s political leaders to get back to work and address “bread and butter” issues such as the soaring cost of living, his office said on Sunday. He said he would also accuse the EU of refusing to give ground on post-Brexit border controls and warn that Britain will have a “need to act” unless the bloc changes its position.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a border with the EU. When Britain left the bloc in 2020, a deal was struck to keep Ireland’s land border free of customs posts and other checks, as an open border is a key pillar of the peace process that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland. Instead, checks are carried out on certain goods, such as meat and eggs, entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
The arrangement is opposed by Northern Ireland trade unionists, who say the new controls have placed a burden on businesses and frayed ties between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The UK government agrees the regulations destabilize Northern Ireland’s peace deal, which relies on support from the Protestant Unionist and Catholic Nationalist communities.
The Prime Minister’s Office said on Sunday that the trade deal – which Johnson’s government brokered and signed – had “led to the trade union community feeling threatened in its aspirations and its identity”.
The UK has said it could pass legislation allowing it to override parts of the Brexit treaty if the EU does not agree to scrap checks. If that happened, the EU would retaliate with legal action – and possibly trade sanctions. The 27-nation bloc is Britain’s largest economic partner.
Ivan Rogers, former British ambassador to the EU, said: “I think there is a serious risk that we are headed for a trade war.”
Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney said Britain’s “sword talk and demagoguery” was undermining peace in Northern Ireland “at a time when the world needs the western world to stand together, act together to solve problems together”.
“The last thing the EU wants, the last thing Ireland wants is tension with the UK, especially at this time given what is happening in Ukraine, Russian aggression and the need to work together on the international stage,” he told Sky News. .