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UK Labour leader Keir Starmer meets Taoiseach Micheál Martin at Government Buildings. PA
UK Labour

On Dublin visit, Keir Starmer accuses Johnson of taking 'wrecking ball' to UK-Irish relations

Starmer’s visit comes as the UK Government revealed plans to introduce legislation that would override parts of the Brexit.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Jun 2022

UK LABOUR PARTY leader Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of taking a “wrecking ball” to relationships with Ireland and the EU with his controversial plan to unilaterally scrap aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Starmer is currently on a visit to Dublin to meet senior figures in the government to discuss the deepening row over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Boris Johnson’s UK Government has revealed plans to introduce domestic legislation that would override parts of the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced plans to legislate last month and the Bill is expected to be published in the coming days.

Starmer held a meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, which he described as a “very positive” discussion while speaking to reporters afterwards. 

The Taoiseach tweeted that he had a “good meeting” with Starmer in Government Buildings following their discussion.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney also tweeted: “Very welcome visit from Keir Starmer today to focus on the importance of British/Irish relations and finding agreed ways forward, through negotiation, to outstanding issues of concern.

“There are no current issues that cannot be resolved with good will and pragmatism.”

Starmer spent the 15-minute walk from Coveney’s office to Government Buildings chatting with Irish Labour leader Ivana Bacik.

He also held a meeting with President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin this morning. 

This week, Martin warned that a UK Government move to legislate to override parts of the protocol would represent a “historic low point” in recent Anglo-Irish relations.

His remarks were echoed by Coveney who said earlier today:

“My message to the British government is a very clear one, which is that if you are genuinely interested in negotiated solutions to these problems, and there are problems in terms of the protocol and its implementation, well then let’s see some evidence as to a willingness to negotiate seriously those solutions through compromise, through flexibility.”

keir-starmer-visit-to-dublin-and-belfast Keir Starmer meets President Michael D Higgins in Áras An Uachtaráin. PA PA

On a visit to Trinity College today, Starmer said: “As someone who cares deeply about the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom, I’m concerned about the comments that have been made.

“Of course there are challenges with the protocol, but I think that we have faced much greater challenges than that in our shared history and I think we can deal with the remaining issues.

“We’ve faced bigger problems than this. With good faith, statecraft and trust around the negotiating table, which is what a Labour government would bring, these problems can be overcome. But a Prime Minister without those attributes taking a wrecking ball to the relationship is not going to help anybody.

“Trust is very important in all of this and this Prime Minister does not have the trust, or I fear he doesn’t have the trust, to negotiate in the way that I actually think would lead to a solution to the problems.”

He also visited the Ireland’s oldest library at Trinity College and the Book of Kells exhibition.

Commenting on the prospect of the UK Government unilaterally scrapping parts of the protocol, he said the Labour Party believed in upholding international law.

“There are challenges that need to be overcome but I start, and the Labour Party starts, with the principle that we believe in and will always uphold the Good Friday Agreement, and we believe in and will abide by international law,” he added.

“The single biggest barrier at the moment is a Prime Minister who doesn’t have those attributes, who is distracted, is divided, he’s doing everything he can to save his own skin rather than focusing on the issue here, which is how do we get people around negotiating table, flexibility on both sides so we can overcome the remaining problems.”

featureimage Starmer in the Long Room in Trinity College. Stefan Rousseau / PA Stefan Rousseau / PA / PA

Starmer said there is a long shared history between Ireland and the United Kingdom, adding that the Good Friday Agreement is one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government.

“I am here to assure everyone I speak to, of our renewed commitment to the Good Friday Agreement which is as relevant today as it was the day it was signed and to make the commitment against the backdrop of a Government led by Boris Johnson which is divided and frankly taking a wrecking ball to relations between Ireland and the UK,” he added.

Tomorrow, Starmer will be in Belfast to meet political leaders in Stormont, where he is expected to call for compromise and negotiation to end the political deadlock over the return of the powersharing Executive.

Downing Street has said it remains “confident” its planned legislation to give ministers the power to override the Northern Ireland Protocol is legal under international law.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Yes, we are confident of that, the Foreign Secretary has been clear about that, the Bill is lawful under international law and we will be setting out further detail about our legal position when we put the Bill forward.”

He said the relevant Cabinet committee agreed the legislation yesterday.

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