Boris Johnson on Monday urged, without tangible result, Unionists and Republicans in Northern Ireland to agree to end the political paralysis caused by post-Brexit controls, amid tensions with the EU.
Ten days after the historic victory of the Republicans of Sinn Fein in the local elections, the British Prime Minister met at Hillsborough Castle, on the outskirts of Belfast, with the leaders of the political formations of this British province
His objective was to convince them to "go back to work" to solve the daily problems of the population, the Northern Irish institutions being at a standstill.
The unionists of the DUP have indeed refused to participate in the local executive, yet supposed to be shared under the terms of the peace agreement of 1998 which ended three decades of bloody conflict. And they have blocked the functioning of the Northern Ireland Assembly by not making it possible for the moment to elect its Speaker.
The unionists, viscerally attached to the union with Great Britain, thus intend to protest against the Northern Irish protocol, the agreement signed between London and Brussels to answer 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, in the Irish Sea, and threatens, according to them, the place of this province within the United Kingdom.
After meeting Boris Johnson, who was booed on his arrival by 200 protesters, Sinn Fein chairwoman Mary Lou McDonald described a 'quite difficult' meeting which did not bring '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 "actions" and not "words": "I want to see the government enact a law that will provide the solution we need".
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".
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.
Protect the peace accord
Invoking political tensions in Northern Ireland and disruptions in trade, the British government wants to renegotiate in depth the protocol with the European Union, which says it is only ready for adjustments.
London is threatening unilateral action to override this agreement. Such a position is unacceptable 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 EU's position will change," Boris Johnson wrote in an op-ed in the Belfast Telegraph, failing which "action will be necessary" to protect the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement.
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" that 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'.