Boris Johnson will travel to Belfast on Monday amid accusations that he is helping to hold the people of Northern Ireland “to ransom” for siding with the DUP over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
A bitter war of words broke out yesterday after the main unionist party collapsed the Stormont Assembly in a bid to send a “clear message” to the EU over post-Brexit checks on goods.
The DUP, which was the second-largest party in terms of the number of assembly seats it won in last week’s election, blocked the nomination of a new speaker at the assembly, leaving the devolved legislature unable to function.
The move was condemned by opposition parties, who demanded the DUP allow an assembly to be formed while disagreements with the Northern Ireland Protocol are thrashed out.
Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill, who was poised to become First Minister after last week’s election victory, said the Prime Minister would be flying in for talks on the protocol on Monday.
Mr Johnson is expected to reiterate his warning that he will scrap large parts of the treaty, having been given the legal clearance to do so by his Attorney General Suella Braverman.
Ms O’Neill said yesterday: “I intend to put it to him [Mr Johnson] directly that he needs to stop pandering to the DUP, that they need to get on and work with the [European] Commission and find ways to smooth the implementation of the protocol and stop holding us to ransom for their game plan.”
She added: “They’re playing a game of chicken with the European Commission right now and we’re caught in the middle.”
Her comments were echoed by the Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, who described it as a “shameful day” for the DUP.
“The DUP came to Stormont, signed the register, took their salaries, but refused to take their seats and do the work to earn it. I don’t think that is ever acceptable,” she said.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie urged that an Assembly speaker be elected so that the public’s concerns can be addressed.
The DUP defended its stance in robust terms, with DUP MLA Paul Givan telling the Assembly that his party would not be supporting the election of a Speaker.
Mr Givan told MLAs: “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.
“It is because we want these institutions to endure that we are taking the action we are taking today.”
Mr Johnson is also expected to meet the Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin next week. It comes after Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney accusing the PM’s former Brexit Sherpa Lord Frost of deliberately trying to create tension with the EU by comparing the Northern Ireland protocol spat with the war in Ukraine.