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Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O'Neill PA Images
Brexit

O'Neill accuses Johnson of 'assisting DUP nonsense' amid UK plans to 'rip up' parts of Protocol

Liz Truss is expected to declare her intention to bring forward legislation which rips up parts of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal.

LAST UPDATE | 17 May 2022

IF THE UK Government moves to unilaterally override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the North could be in a “very dangerous place”, Michelle O’Neill has said.

The Sinn Féin Vice President told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that such a move by the UK, and any retaliation from the European Union, would result in Northern Ireland being “caught out in the middle of a game of chicken”.

The UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is today expected to declare her intention to bring forward legislation which rips up parts of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal on Northern Ireland.

It is understood that Truss will make the announcement in a statement to the Commons following a full Cabinet meeting, in an attempt to restore power-sharing in the region.

The row over the protocol has created an impasse in efforts to form a new executive in Stormont, with the Democratic Unionist Party refusing to join a new administration unless its concerns over the arrangements are addressed.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Belfast yesterday to meet leaders of the Stormont parties in an attempt to secure progress – but he also used the trip to issue a warning to Brussels that the UK is prepared to rewrite unilaterally the terms of the Brexit deal he signed.

O’Neill today described the meeting with Johnson as “a very robust exchange of views”.

“I’m very firmly of the view – we’re very firmly of the view – that Boris Johnson is pandering to the DUP. He is assisting them in their nonsense in terms of trying to prevent an Executive being formed, a Government that will actually deliver to the public in the aftermath of an election,” she said.

O’Neill said if the UK attempts to unilaterally override parts of the protocol, there will be “further political instability and further economic uncertainty” in Northern Ireland.

She said that such a scenario could see the North “caught in the middle” and being used as “a pawn” in a row between the Conservative Party and the EU.

A majority of MLAs in Stormont’s newly elected Assembly represent parties that support retaining the protocol, with many arguing that the arrangement offers the region protection from some of the negative economic consequences of Brexit.

The threat of unilateral action has already gone down badly in European capitals, with EU leaders urging the UK Government to fully participate in talks.

2.65984185 Foreign Secretary Liz Truss PA Images PA Images

European Commissioner Mairéad McGuinness today said “there won’t be a knee-jerk reaction” from the EU.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, McGuinness said: “I think in all of this process, which has been lengthy and where there has been some testing of patience, we’ve held our patience because we see the need for both action and compromise … Despite provocations, we have to maintain that level of engagement.”

She continued: “We’re all a little bit confused as to what to expect because there have been many twists and turns in the last week as to what might happen around the protocol. We’ve had some very extreme language, we’ve had some
pullback.”

McGuinness said the build-up to Truss’ statement “has not been pleasant at all” but “there is political will here in the European Union and the Commission to resolve the outstanding issues around the implementation of the protocol”.

“We can’t do that sitting at the table on our own. And indeed, the British Government can’t do it on its own in the House of Commons. We have to do it together.”

McGuinness added that the “vast majority” of elected members of the new Assembly in Northern Ireland “don’t want unilateral action, they don’t want to see further destabilisation”.

‘Not about picking a fight’

A Foreign Office source said “this isn’t about picking a fight with the EU”, saying that Truss’ priority is to uphold the Good Friday Agreement.

“The peace process and acting in the interests of Northern Ireland is what motivates her,” they said.

The PA news agency understands Truss’ ambition is to lay the legislation in Parliament within a couple of weeks, and certainly before the summer. But the overwhelming preference is thought to remain a negotiated solution.

The Global Britain (Strategy) Committee, which considers matters relating to the UK’s trade priorities, will meet first on Tuesday, followed by the full Cabinet, before Truss delivers her statement to the Commons.

Yesterday evening, the UK Foreign Secretary held calls with Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.

In both, Truss said she underlined the importance of upholding the Good Friday Agreement and re-establishing the Northern Ireland Executive.

Sefcovic later said engaging with “flexibilities” offered by the EU would be preferable to taking unilateral action on the protocol.

He tweeted: “With political will, practical issues arising from the implementation of the protocol in Northern Ireland can be resolved.

“Engaging with us on the flexibilities we offer would be a better course of action than unilateral one. We’re ready to play our part, as from the outset.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday said that the only way to resolve the row was “substantive talks” between the UK and the EU.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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