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PM ‘to make emergency visit to Northern Ireland’ as protocol crisis deepens

PM ‘to make emergency visit to Northern Ireland’ as protocol crisis deepens
Sinn Fein urges prime minister to stop ‘pandering’ to DUP over its demand to scrap Northern Ireland protocol

Boris Johnson is set to make an emergency visit to Noord-Ierland, as the crisis over the protocol deepened with the unionist DUP blocking the election of a speaker at Stormont.

Sinn Fein first minister designate Michelle O’Neill said that she was expecting the prime minister in Northern Ireland on Monday, when she will tell him to “stop pandering to the DUP”, which is refusing to join a power-sharing executive while the protocol is in place.

Her comments will fuel expectations that the PM will announce plans for legislation to override parts of the controversial Northern Ireland protocol, which he agreed in 2019 in order to keep the border with the Republic open after Brexit but which he now blames for disruption to trade.

There was no immediate confirmation from Downing Street of Mr Johnson’s visit on Monday, which comes amid increasing sabre-rattling from the UK administration over the future of the deal with the EU. London has been accused of “threats and blackmail” by Brussels after foreign secretary Liz Truss told European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič on Thursday that the UK would have “no choice but to act” unless the EU gave in to demands to scale back customs checks.

Ms O’Neill said that Northern Ireland was being used as “a pawn in the middle of a battle between the British government and the EU”, but insisted that the protocol was “here to stay”.

She said she will tell Mr Johnson on Monday “that he needs to stop pandering to the DUP, that they need to get on and work with the Commission and find ways to smooth the implementation of the protocol and stop holding us to ransom for their game-playing”.

“They are playing a game of chicken with the European Commission right now, and we are caught in the middle," sy het gese. “That’s not good enough.”

She welcomed the arrival of a delegation from the US Congress next week to discuss the protocol issues.

“Britain have reneged constantly on international agreements which they are themselves signed up to," sy het gese. “Before the ink will be dry on the paper, they start to unravel those things and that’s not good enough.

“So if Britain wants to see a future trade deal with the American administration, then they need to honour the Good Friday Agreement and stop messing with it because, quite frankly, that’s what they’re doing right now. '

With cross-community consent required under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the largest unionist party was able to use its boycott to prevent the appointment of a speaker, effectively preventing the Northern Ireland Assembly from sitting.

Ms O’Neill accused the DUP of “punishing the electorate” by paralysing the functions of government at a time when all other major parties in the Assembly wanted to go ahead with the formation of an executive.

“The DUP are holding society to ransom for the hard Brexit which they themselves delivered, along with their friends in the Tories," sy het gese.

“I would say to the DUP to get real, to understand the public need a functioning executive, to understand that we need to be in this executive together, working together for the people that have elected us, and that the protocol issues can be resolved alongside that work.”