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Boris Johnson resignation is 'opportunity' to restore partnership on NI, says Taoiseach

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that Johnson “will not be missed”.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Jul 7th 2022, 2:24 PM

IRELAND AND THE UK have an “opportunity” to return to working in partnership on the Northern Ireland Protocol after the resignation of Boris Johnson as prime minister, the Taoiseach has said.

The relationship between the Irish and UK governments has been “strained and challenged in recent times”, Micheál Martin said this afternoon.

Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reluctantly stepped down in the last hour amid a spate of resignations by government members in the last two days as a growing number of Conservatives came out against him.

The UK’s political landscape can have international impacts, particularly for Ireland in the current context of Northern Ireland and the dispute over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

Responding to Johnson’s resignation, the Taoiseach said that he had “led the British Government during an especially challenging period, including dealing with the impact of Covid-19 and the response to the war on Ukraine”.

“From a personal perspective I am conscious that he has been through a difficult few weeks and I extend my best wishes to him and his family for the future, following the announcement of his resignation,” Martin said.

He said that “Britain is Ireland’s closest neighbour” and that the two governments “working in close partnership is a key underpinning for peace and prosperity on these islands”.

“While Prime Minister Johnson and I engaged actively together, we didn’t always agree, and the relationship between our Governments has been strained and challenged in recent times,” the Taoiseach said.

“Our joint responsibilities concerning stewardship of the Good Friday Agreement, as well as nurturing broader bilateral relations between us, require us to work together in a spirit of respect, trust and partnership.

That is more important than ever today and I would once again urge a pulling back from unilateral action, whether that be on dealing with the legacy of the past, human rights, or the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We have now an opportunity to return to the true spirit of partnership and mutual respect that is needed to underpin the gains of the Good Friday Agreement.”

He welcomed the UK’s collaboration with the EU in responding to Russia’s war on Ukraine and said the same approach must be taken on other issues such as the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“I remain committed to working with the British Government and Prime Minister in that spirit in the times ahead.”

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings this afternoon, the Taoiseach said that some parts of the Conservative Party who don’t have the same commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.

“Within the Conservative Party there’s elements certainly who never had the same commitment, it seems to me, to the DNA of the Good Friday Agreement as the broader parliamentary majority in Westminster had.”

“There are many Conservatives, on the other hand, who really were very dismayed at the unilateralism, particularly at the decision to bring in legislation to unilaterally override the agreement that the Westminster Parliament had actually ratified.”

The Taoiseach had a sense that there was an opportunity to return to more normal relations between the UK, Ireland and the European Union.

However, when asked about a potentially more hardline Prime Minister, the Taoiseach said that he could not predict how the Conservative Party would vote.

In his resignation outside No 10, Johnson said that a new leader of the Conservative Party should be elected and that he will remain in post until then.

A timetable for the leadership election should be announced next week.

‘He will not be missed’

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that Johnson “will not be missed”.

“Boris Johnson’s interactions with Ireland have been wholly negative. Under his leadership, we’ve seen an attack on the Good Friday Agreement, threat after threat to break international law,” McDonald said.

“Boris Johnson’s government brought austerity to people in the north of Ireland and he championed and brought the disaster that is Brexit to all of us. I think it needs to be stated very clearly that whoever succeeds Boris Johnson now as prime minister needs to change direction and change tack.”

She said that the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive must be established without further delay and that the British Government must respect international law and fulfil its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

It must understand “without any shadow of a doubt that Ireland will not be the collateral damage for the Tory Brexit”, she said.

“Boris Johnson’s interactions with Ireland have been wholly negative and he will not be missed.”

First minister-designate of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill tweeted earlier that Johnson is a “figure of absolute disrepute”.

“It has been an utter absurdity that the people here have been subjected to Boris Johnson for any length of time,” O’Neill said.

“Anyone who tries to sabotage our peace agreements, a quarter century of progress and our shared future is truly no friend of ours.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that the Irish government is “ready to work” with a new prime minister on “protecting our shared achievements in the peace process and our shared responsibility under international law on Brexit”.

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“Let’s start with getting a government in Stormont,” Coveney said.

Fine Gael spokesperson on European Affairs Neale Richmond said that “as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has overseen a marked decline in political relations between Ireland and the UK, the lowest ebb since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement”.

He said Johnson’s resignation and replacement marks an opportunity for a reset in relations between the UK and Ireland and between the UK and EU.

“While it is depressing that the internal politicking of Westminster and the British Conservative Party continues to have such a profound impact on life on this island, we must stand ready to work with whoever becomes the next British Prime Minister,” Richmond said.

“As soon as a new Prime Minister is elected and their Government appointed, the Irish Government should seek an emergency meeting of the British Irish Council.”

Additional reporting by Sarah McGuiness and Tadgh McNally

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Lauren Boland

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