Earlier on Monday, the Prime Minister spoke to Charles Michel, European Council President, about issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol, which erects a customs border between the country and Great Britain. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader, has now challenged the Prime Minister to “put right what he did wrong” with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The DUP leader added Mr Johnnson has the choice whether his legacy will be Brexit or the break-up of the Union.
At the Queen’s University Belfast as part of an Assembly election leaders lecture series, Sir Jeffrey was asked whether he believes the Conservative Party had thrown the DUP under the bus.
He said: “Sadly under pressure to get Brexit done, the Prime Minister I’m afraid, reneged on his commitment, the commitment he gave my party not to have a border in the Irish Sea, a commitment he gave to respect Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom and when he signed up to the protocol, he signed up to a border in the Irish Sea.
“So it’s not a question of throwing the DUP under the bus, the Prime Minister threw Northern Ireland under the bus, and the harm that this protocol is doing to Northern Ireland, I think the Prime Minister now recognises but we need him to do something about it.”
Sir Jeffrey then added Mr Johnson’s Government “still haven’t done what they said they would do” in a command paper from July 2021, which proposed “a new balance in our arrangements covering Northern Ireland” including increased freedom of goods between the UK countries.
The DUP leader continued: “So I think what the Government need to do is to get on with either reaching agreement with the EU which respects Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, removes the Irish Sea border and puts in place practical arrangements that respects the UK’s integrity or the UK government acts unilaterally.
“The Prime Minister has the opportunity to put right what he did wrong and he will be judged in history by whether he does or does not do that.
“Here’s the challenge for Boris Johnson, will his legacy be Brexit or will his legacy be the break-up of the Union?”
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In a meeting on March 12 with taoiseach Micheál Martin, Mr Johnson said “significant changes” are still needed with the Northern Ireland protocol.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister reiterated the need to make significant changes to the Northern Ireland protocol in order to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland and safeguard the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.
“He said that while greater ambition and flexibility was needed from the EU in the negotiations, it was his hope that the same spirit of cooperation that had characterised the UK/EU relationship in respect of Ukraine could also be applied to resolving the issues with the protocol.”
However, ahead of his meeting with Mr Johnson in London, Mr Martin said there is a growing view “within Northern Ireland, particularly in Northern Ireland business and industry, that the protocol is working”.
He said: “Anybody I’ve met in Northern Ireland, all want to continue access to the EU single market. It’s a good basic principle to start off on.
“And my view, given the improved relationship between the UK and the EU as a result of the partnership on Ukraine, I would like to think that in the fullness of time we will be able to resolve this issue.
“But we’ll take it step by step. And there’s a channel there between the European Union and the United Kingdom that’s ongoing and we’re going to take this step by step.”
It comes after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told officials to be ready to invoke Article 16 on Friday, as she attempts to force a quick deal with the EU, according to the Times.
Article 16 allows both the EU and UK to take unilateral “strictly necessary” measures if applying the protocol “leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade”.
Ms Truss, who took over from ex-Brexit Minister Lord David Frost in December, is thought to have “lost faith” in negotiations and wants Mr Johnson to warn Brussels the UK is ready to suspend parts of the Protocol if a deal is not reached before voters in Northern Ireland go to the polls in May.
A source, who described the EU as being “totally unreasonable”, told the broadsheet: “Liz has lost faith in the negotiations and wants the PM to tell (Ursula Von der Leyen) to force an intense period of negotiations or trigger Article 16 by May.”
However, another source claimed: “The PM is more hardline on this than Liz.”