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Boris Johnson says he doesn't see an Irish border poll happening for 'a very, very long time'

The UK Prime Minister was speaking on a new BBC programme about the centenary of Northern Ireland.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Image: BBC NI Spotlight

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has said he does not see a referendum on a united Ireland happening  for “a very, very long time to come”.

Johnson was speaking to BBC NI’s Spotlight programme in a special edition to be broadcast tonight commemorating the centenary of Northern Ireland.  

Johnson was questioned on the potential of a future poll on Northern Ireland’s constitutional status but said that he does not envisage such a vote taking place in the near future. 

The holding of a so-called ‘border poll’ to ask citizens north and south whether unification should take place is provided for within the Good Friday Agreement. 

The holding of such a vote is effectively the decision of the UK government should it feel such a vote is likely to pass

Johnson told the programme that he feels that the UK should be considering what it can do together rather than splitting apart. 

Johnson is fighting the prospect of another independence referendum in Scotland ahead of Scottish parliamentary elections on 6 May that are likely to see a renewed majority for the SNP

Speaking on the same programme Taoiseach Micheál Martin did not put a timescale on when a border poll could or should take place but did say that said holding one soon would be “very explosive and divisive”.

Both leaders also spoke about the ongoing tensions in Northern Ireland and unionist objections to the Brexit Protocol. 

Johnson vowed that he take action on the Northern Ireland Protocol if the EU refuses to ditch what he called “absurd” aspects of the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Johnson said his government was currently working on “sandpapering” the Protocol, which governs Irish Sea trade post-Brexit, to address some of the concerns about trade disruption.

“What we’re doing is removing what I think of as the unnecessary protuberances and barriers that have that grown up, we’re getting the barnacles off the thing and sandpapering it into shape,” he said.

Loyalists believe the new economic barriers between the region and Great Britain have weakened their place in the UK.

The Protocol requires a range of new regulatory checks on agri-food goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Some GB goods are banned under the arrangements.

Commercial goods also need to undergo various customs processes.

The Protocol has yet to be fully implemented with various exemptions on checks currently in place.

The EU has taken legal action against the UK for its decision to unilaterally extend some of those grace periods amid continuing talks between the two sides on ways to ease the red tape burden.

Johnson has repeatedly warned that he will trigger a mechanism to suspend the Protocol – Article 16 – if changes to the arrangements cannot be agreed.

If we can’t make enough progress and if it looks as though the EU is going to be very, very dogmatic about it and we continue to have absurd situations so you can’t bring in rose bushes with British soil into Northern Ireland, you can’t bring British sausages into Northern Ireland, then frankly I’m going to, we’ll have to take further steps.

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The Taoiseach told the programme that the protocol posed no threat to the integrity of the UK.

“The Protocol is not tearing the United Kingdom apart, that’s just an overly dramatic presentation of it in our view,” he said.

“It explicitly affirms the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent. So it’s not a danger to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland at all, and was never intended to be.”

- With reporting by Press Association

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Rónán Duffy

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