Visiting Northern Ireland, Boris Johnson in search of a way out of the crisis

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Boris Johnson on Monday urged unionists and republicans in Northern Ireland to agree to end the political paralysis, ten days after local elections that led to the historic victory of the Sinn Fein Republicans. Unionists refuse to participate in the executive if the Northern Irish protocol, linked to Brexit, is not abolished.

Ten days after the historic victory for Sinn Fein Republicans local elections, the institutions of Northern Ireland are at a standstill. Visiting Belfast on Monday May 16, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is visiting Belfast on Monday May 16, hoping to end this political paralysis.

At the origin of this impasse, the refusal of the unionists of the DUP to participate in the executive of this province, yet supposed to be shared under the terms of the peace agreement of 1998 – an agreement which ended three decades of known bloody conflict. under the name of “Troubles”. They have thus blocked the functioning of the Northern Ireland Assembly by making it impossible for the moment to elect its president.

Tensions around the Northern Irish protocol

Viscerally attached to union with Great Britain, the Unionists thus intend protest against northern irish protocol, an agreement signed between London and Brussels to respond to the delicate question of the border between British Northern Ireland and the European Republic of Ireland after Brexit. This text creates a de facto customs border with Great Britain and threatens, according to them, the place of this province within the United Kingdom.

Referring to this protocol, Boris Johnson explained on television that the government did not “want to remove it” because “we believe it can be fixed”. He added that the leaders of the five parties he met each in turn on Monday judged “also” that he “needed to be reformed”.

Upon his arrival at Hillsborough Castle, on the outskirts of Belfast – where the talks are taking place – Boris Johnson was booed by around 200 protesters, including anti-Brexit activists and relatives of victims of the “Troubles”.

After her meeting with the British Prime Minister, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald described a “quite difficult” meeting which did not provide “clear answers”. According to her, “despite all the rhetoric from the British government about restoring the executive here in the north, its priority is actually to appease the DUP”.

For his part, the leader of the DUP, Jeffrey Donaldson called for “deeds” and not “words”: “I want to see the government enact a law that will provide the solution we need”.

According to the British press, the British government could announce a bill allowing the government to unilaterally suspend certain parts of the protocol by invoking its article 16. Its adoption would take weeks and would set the stage for a long period of crisis between the EU and London but also in Northern Ireland. Foreign Minister Liz Truss is due to present the government’s “reasoning” to parliament on Tuesday, Downing Street said, which insists on the need for “urgent progress”.

London is threatening unilateral action to override this agreement. An unacceptable position for the EU which accuses Boris Johnson of going back on a treaty signed knowingly, even if it means violating international law, and threatens severe trade reprisals. “I hope the position of the EU will change,” wrote Boris Johnson in an op-ed in the Belfast Telegraphotherwise “it will be necessary to act” to protect the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

London’s “reasoning” is to be presented to the British parliament on Tuesday by the head of diplomacy Liz Truss, according to Downing Street, which insists on the need for “urgent progress”.

“The last thing Europe needs”

Northern Irish institutions had already experienced three years of paralysis, against the backdrop of a financial scandal, before an agreement allowed the restoration of their operation in January 2020.

Arriving at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned against “unilateral action or threats of unilateral action” which would violate international law.

Such acts are “the last thing Europe needs when we are working so well together in the face of Russian aggression” in Ukraine, he added, stressing that the Northern Irish protocol and the agreement of free trade concluded between London and Brussels are “linked”.

Tipped to become Northern Ireland’s new Prime Minister, Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill has accused the DUP of taking ‘society hostage for the hard Brexit they brought with their friends of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.

After meeting Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin in Dublin, she blasted Boris Johnson for his repeated threats of unilateral action, a move she called “madness”.

With AFP

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Visiting Northern Ireland, Boris Johnson in search of a way out of the crisis

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