PM to meet political leaders during NI visit

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be in Northern Ireland on Wednesday. Credit: PA

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet the leaders of Northern Ireland’s five main political parties during his first official visit on Wednesday.

The new Conservative leader will be joined by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith and will be updated on the progress of talks to restore the Executive.

Arriving at Stormont House, the Prime Minister said it was 'great to be in Northern Ireland' adding that his 'prime focus' was getting the Stormont institutions back up and running.

“The people of Northern Ireland have now been without an Executive and Assembly for two years and six months – put simply, this is much, much too long,” Mr Johnson said.

“Northern Ireland’s citizens need and deserve the Executive to get up and running again as soon as possible, so that locally-accountable politicians can take decisions on the issues that really matter to local people.

“I’m pleased to meet each of Northern Ireland’s party leaders to stress that I am going to do everything in my power to make the ongoing talks to restore devolution a success.”

Mr Johnson has been carrying out visits across the UK after taking over the reins from Theresa May.

Mr Johnson has also finally spoken on the telephone to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, nearly a week after his appointment and having been accused of snubbing the Irish government.

UTV Deputy Political Editor Tracey Magee said: “London and Dublin both described the conversation as warm, but essentially what happened was both men re-stated their positions on Brexit.

“Boris Johnson said that the UK is leaving the EU on October 31st no matter what – Leo Varadkar replied that the backstop is necessary and said that the EU is united that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened.”

Tracey added: “We’re also told that Leo Varadkar invited Mr Johnson to Dublin.

“But very tellingly, Mr Johnson didn’t take that invitation up immediately – instead Downing Street said both men will stay in contact.”

Underneath all the diplomatic niceties, you can see that there’s a real strain in Anglo-Irish relations.

UTV Deputy Political Editor Tracey Magee

New Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said the visit to Northern Ireland shows “just how important” the region is to the British government.

He added: “It is of critical importance that new momentum is now introduced to the ongoing talks process, and that all of the parties work collectively to reach agreement.

“I’m pleased the Prime Minister has agreed to meet each party and help drive the process forward.

“I want to ensure Northern Ireland continues to thrive and intend to work alongside the PM to build a prosperous, secure Northern Ireland for everyone.”