Ian Paisley accuses Tories of 'betrayal' for choosing 'English nationalism' over unionism

Paisley comments come as an early Stormont election was ruled out by the Northern Ireland Secretary. / YouTube

DUP MP IAN Paisley has accused Boris Johnson’s party of “betraying the unionist people” by focusing on English electoral issues rather than the union with Northern Ireland.

Paisley has accused the UK Prime Minister of a “calculated tactical decision to keep quiet” for not speaking publicly following the resignation of NI First Minister Paul Givan last Thursday. 

Givan resigned over what the DUP regards as a lack of progress in negotiations to tackle issues with the Brexit Protocol. Givan’s resignation also forced deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill from the joint office.

Other Executive ministers remain in place and the Assembly is continuing to sit with a number of pieces of legislation being progressed.

Speaking in the House of Commons last night, Paisley said that it was “wrong” that Johnson had not spoken about the “constitutional crisis”. 

“I think the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom ought to have spoken about this on Thursday evening. I think he should not have shut up about it until the issue is resolved. I think they are his responsibilities,” Paisley said. 

When you have a crisis, a constitutional crisis, through a prism of a divided community, which is what Northern Ireland is, you create suspicions and concerns unless those matters are properly addressed. 

Paisley added that Johnson’s party was acting in the interests of English nationalism rather than unionism: 

There is a fear that the Conservative and Unionist Party, which governs this nation, is actually a nationalist party. An English nationalist party. That it is not concerned about a border in the Irish Sea but is concerned about a Red Wall on this island, the mainland island, and that’s what keeps them up every single day. If that is their only concern than that government is betraying the union and the unionist people. 

Separately this morning, the UK’s Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis appeared to rule out calling an early Assembly election.

Lewis was speaking after calls by Sinn Fein and the DUP for the 5 May poll to be brought forward amid the Stormont crisis. 

Lewis said this morning that “it is right” that the election takes place on 5 May, telling the BBC that it was close to the start of the formal election period already.

“The Assembly under the new rules can continue to function, it’s right we allow MLAs time and space to pass legislation, I’ll be working to support the parties to do that and then we can have an election on 5 May,” he said.

Northern Ireland junior minister Conor Burns MP defended the “silence” of Johnson on the crisis, telling  the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that the Prime Minister had been “heavily involved”.

“The Prime Minister takes a genuinely deep interest in this … I would hope that the fact that he asked me, one of his closest friends in the House of Commons, to serve in the Northern Ireland Office, you could take as a declaration of his interest and commitment to Northern Ireland,” he told the committee. 

Burns said the UK government “profoundly regrets” the withdrawal of the first minister and has “urged the DUP to get the first minister back in”.

He said “we’ve been here before” but added there is a fundamental difference to the position now, as ministers are still in place and the Assembly is still sitting.

“We have not actually witnessed a collapse of the institutions in the way they had before,” he said, adding he noted a “degree of positioning” ahead of the Assembly elections. 

Burns also said that Givan’s resignation “will not fundamentally alter” the UK’s negotiations with the EU over the protocol.

“I have to say very candidly that the Government is clear on our intentions with the (European) Commission on the protocol and the withdrawal of the first minister will not fundamentally alter the government’s determination to carry on engaging with the Commission to find a resolution” Burns told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

- With reporting by Press Association

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