Keir Starmer tells Northern Ireland parties Labour opposes Troubles legacy immunity legislation

Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer at Stormont. Credit: Press Eye

Sir Keir Starmer has said that Labour will oppose the UK Government legislation to address the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer shared the party's position on the immunity proposal as he held meetings with some of the main Stormont parties in Belfast on Friday.

Sir Keir said his party will not back the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

“We will not support that legislation,” he confirmed during a visit to Belfast to meet some of NI's political leaders.

Sir Keir was also in Dublin on Thursday, where he meet senior Irish Cabinet ministers and Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

“We will vote against that legislation because it doesn’t have the support of any of the political parties here in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“It doesn’t have the support of victims’ groups here in Northern Ireland, some of whom have told me themselves they haven’t even been consulted.

“And it hasn’t got the support of the Irish Government."

The UK Government has said the planned legislation aims to provide better outcomes for victims, survivors and veterans.

Introduced to the Commons last month, the legislation if passed would offer immunity to people who are deemed to have co-operated with an information retrieval body.

The Bill would also stop future inquests and civil actions related to the Troubles, although it does not fully close the door to criminal prosecutions.

It has been widely condemned by Northern Irish political parties, as well as victims’ campaigners, the Irish Government and Amnesty International.

“If I have learnt anything in the years that I worked here in Northern Ireland and over the 20 years I have been engaged with Northern Ireland, you don’t proceed in Westminster with controversial legislation when it doesn’t have the backing of the political parties, victims’ groups here in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government,” Sir Keir said.

Sir Keir's comments come after discussions with Alliance Party Leader Naomi Long and SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood on Friday, which took place amid a deepening row over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

It comes as controversial legislation to change parts of the Protocol is set to be brought before Parliament on Monday by the UK Government.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer meets Sinn Fein's President Mary Lou McDonald in Belfast during his visit to NI. Credit: PA

Speaking after her meeting, Ms Long called for reform of the Stormont institutions to prevent parties being able to block the formation of an Executive.

"The issues with the protocol really do not justify the egregious breach of international law and international trust that the Government are now embarking on via legislation basically at the behest of the DUP," the Alliance leader said.

"The Government wants to take some legislation forward so that these institutions here can be restored and that they can do that on a stable footing, they should be looking to reform these institutions in legislation to ensure that no party can hold the institutions to ransom going forward."

Mr Eastwood praised Sir Keir after their meeting.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (left) meets Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin at his office during his visit to Dublin. Credit: PA

"It's actually quite refreshing to see have Keir here, in Dublin yesterday and Stormont today, actually having a grown-up in leadership in London engaging properly with political parties here and with the Irish government," said the SDLP leader.

"It's what's been missing, frankly, from this British government over the past number of years.

"Now, on Monday, we're going to see unilateral action on the Protocol, having had no conversations with parties here, no conversations with the Irish government, and just taking a wrecking ball to the progress that we've had."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer met with Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna of the SDLP at Stormont. Credit: PA

Sir Keir was welcomed to Parliament Buildings by outgoing Stormont Speaker Alex Maskey on Friday morning.

He has previously held meetings with DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, UUP Leader Doug Beattie, and Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald.

It comes after the Labour leader's visit to Dublin, when he accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of taking a "wrecking ball" to relationships with Ireland and the EU with his controversial plan to unilaterally scrap aspects of the Protocol.

On Thursday evening, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill warned the UK Government against unilateral moves to override the trade arrangement.

"Boris Johnson knows that to gamble the Protocol is to breach international law and to jeopardise the British Government's agreement with the EU on their withdrawal and future trading relationship, with colossal political and economic impact," she told a party meeting.

"The threat of unilateral action by the Tories to legislate and breach international law serves nobody's interests, anywhere, at any time."

Keir Starmer (second left) and Shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Kyle (far left) meet with Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna. Credit: PA

Meanwhile Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told a DUP meeting there is a "unity of purpose within unionism in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol".

He added: "Even opinion polls show that the vast majority of unionists support our stance that the protocol must be resolved before devolution can be restored."

The DUP has refused to allow the power-sharing Assembly to meet or an Executive to be formed as part of its protest against the Protocol.

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