16/05/2022

UK Govt 'Will Do Its Part' To Help Restore Stormont

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in Belfast today, Monday 16 May, for emergency talks in an effort to break the ongoing deadlock at Stormont in the hopes of facilitating the formation of a new Executive.

Ahead of the meeting Mr Johnson wrote an article for the Belfast Telegraph, stating the "conditions for successful power-sharing have been enhanced by the recent election. Government will do its part but the Executive must be restored now to tackle the cost of living crisis."

In a wide ranging statement, the Prime Minister addressed ongoing political changes in NI, Legacy issues and the Protocol.

Addressing the issues with the Protocol, Johnson said: "In the international agreement that sits alongside the Belfast Agreement, as the sovereign government of Northern Ireland the UK also assumes specific responsibilities that go beyond its role as co-guarantor.

"To protect the 'economic rights' of the people of Northern Ireland. And to ensure 'just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities'.

"We must admit that those commitments have sometimes been difficult to navigate through Brexit.

"We insisted throughout that there would be no scenario in which a hard border would be allowed to emerge. And we have delivered that 100%, as we said we would, protecting in full the rights that were enshrined in 1998.

"We told the Irish Government that we would take special measures within the UK's internal economy to protect their place in the EU single market. And we have done that.

"We committed to maintain the Common Travel Area and associated rights. It is another commitment that British Government has kept, even throughout the pandemic when so many restrictions were enforced.

"It is because of these complexities that the Protocol exists. It is why the Protocol was agreed in good faith. And it is why those who want to scrap the Protocol, rather than seeking changes, are focusing on the wrong thing.
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"But there is no disguising the fact that the delicate balance created in 1998 has been upset. One part of the political community in Northern Ireland feels like its aspirations and identity are threatened by the working of the Protocol."

The Prime Minister continued: "In the absence of change, the prior commitments made by the British Government – to protect all three strands of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, to protect economic rights and parity of esteem – are coming into sharper focus.

"Every unionist representative campaigned against the Protocol, as currently constituted. More importantly, every party, across the divide, seeks mitigations and change. None support a zealous zero risk approach to its implementation. None wants to see grace periods terminated, as the EU insist they must be in return for limited mitigations elsewhere. Some feel that their economic rights as members of the United Kingdom are threatened, which the 1998 Agreement is supposed to protect."

Mr Johnson concluded: "We have been told by the EU that it is impossible to make the changes to the Protocol text to actually solve these problems in negotiations – because there is no mandate to do so.

"We will always keep the door wide open to genuine dialogue. And we will continue to protect the single market – as it has been protected throughout the existence of the Protocol so far – and the open border with the Republic of Ireland which will always be of paramount importance.

"There is without question a sensible landing spot in which everyone's interests are protected. Our shared objective must be to the create the broadest possible cross-community support for a reformed Protocol in 2024.

"I hope the EU's position changes. If it does not, there will be a necessity to act. The Government has a responsibility to provide assurance that the consumers, citizens and businesses of Northern Ireland are protected in the long-term. We will set out a more detailed assessment and next steps to Parliament in the coming days, once I return from discussions with the local parties.

"In doing our part, we expect all elected representatives to get back to work and deliver for the people of Northern Ireland."

The Prime Minister's full statement can be read here.

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