Boris Johnson to tell Northern Ireland politicians to 'get back to work'
Video report by UTV reporter Conchúr Dowds
Boris Johnson will urge Northern Ireland’s politicians to "get back to work" as the UK Government seeks to resolve the deadlock with Brussels over post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The UK Prime Minister will tell Stormont Assembly leaders he wants power sharing back up and running as he visits Belfast on Monday for a series of crisis talks.
The visit comes after the DUP blocked the election of a Speaker at the Stormont Assembly, preventing it from sitting.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's party's move effectively leaves the Assembly unable to function, sparking a bitter row.
Government sources have said Mr Johnson will use a series of private meetings to deliver a “tough message” that parties must come together to form an Executive and Assembly if the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol are to be fixed.
He is expected to say that while the UK Government will “play its part to ensure political stability”, politicians must “get back to work” so they can deliver on “bread and butter issues” for the voters.
The DUP's blocking of an Assembly speaker was condemned by Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill – whose party is now the biggest in the Assembly following elections earlier this month.
Other party leaders also poured scorn on the tactic, including Alliance's Naomi Long - who called it "shameful" and a "sad day” for Northern Ireland.
Sir Jeffrey was also singled out for criticism, after he stepped aside from his Lagan Valley seat at Stormont - instead opting to remain in his Westminster role.
Former Belfast South MP Emma Little-Pengelly has been co-opted into his Assembly seat.
The DUP's Paul Givan told MLAs on Friday the party would not be supporting the election of a speaker.
Mr Givan resigned from the First Minister post in February, as part of DUP protests against the protocol.
He said: "The DUP received a mandate to remove the Irish Sea border and our mandate will be given respect. Our message is now clear, it is time for action, words will no longer suffice."
He continued: "Northern Ireland works best when we work together. Those who now call for majority rule need to recommit themselves to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.
Watch UTV News coverage of the deepening crisis at Stormont on Friday
"We will not be dictated to, we will be treated with respect and equality. Now is the time for action."
The DUP is opposed to the protocol as it requires checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, in order to keep the border with Republic. UK ministers have repeatedly said they will act unilaterally if an agreement cannot be found to reduce the impact of the checks, which have been blamed for hitting businesses and fuelling community tensions.
In his talks, Mr Johnson is expected to say that while the Government “will always keep the door open to genuine dialogue”, there will be “a necessity to act” to protect the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) if there is no change in the EU position.
He will insist the government has never suggested scrapping the protocol and will acknowledge there will always have to be a treaty governing the UK’s relationship with the EU in respect of Northern Ireland in order to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic.
However he will say the “delicate balance” of the GFA has been upset, eroding the historic economic bonds linking Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, leaving the unionist community feeling like its aspirations and identity are threatened.
The PM will argue that the UK and EU’s “shared objective” should be to agree a reformed protocol which can command “the broadest possible cross-community support” when it faces a consent vote in 2024.
Mr Johnson will also use his visit to guarantee the delivery of three pre-existing commitments on a language and culture package, ensuring women and girls have access to abortion services, and introducing new measures to deal with the legacy of the past.