British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of taking a “wrecking ball” to relationships with Ireland and the EU.
He said this was because of his controversial plan to unilaterally scrap aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Starmer is on a visit to Dublin to meet senior figures in the Government to discuss the deepening row over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney today called on the UK to enter dialogue to resolve the issues on the Northern Irish Protocol rather than taking the unilateral action of bringing in a new law to override the agreement.
Today, Minister @simoncoveney met with UK Leader of the Opposition, @Keir_Starmer, and Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, @peterkyle, to discuss British-Irish ties and current international issues.
— Irish Foreign Ministry (@dfatirl) June 9, 2022
Mr Johnson’s government has revealed plans to introduce domestic legislation that would override parts of the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced plans to legislate last month and the bill is expected to be published in the coming days.
This week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned that a UK government move to legislate to override parts of the protocol would represent a “historic low point” in recent Anglo-Irish relations.
On a visit to Trinity College in Dublin city today, Mr Starmer said: “As someone who cares deeply about the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom, I’m concerned about the comments that have been made.
“Of course there are challenges with the protocol, but I think that we have faced much greater challenges than that in our shared history and I think we can deal with the remaining issues.”
He added: “We’ve faced bigger problems than this. With good faith, statecraft and trust around the negotiating table, which is what a Labour government would bring, these problems can be overcome.
“But a prime minister without those attributes taking a wrecking ball to the relationship is not going to help anybody.
“Trust is very important in all of this and this prime minister does not have the trust, or I fear he doesn’t have the trust, to negotiate in the way that I actually think would lead to a solution to the problems.”
Commenting on the prospect of the UK government unilaterally scrapping parts of the protocol, Mr Starmer said the Labour Party believed in upholding international law.
“There are challenges that need to be overcome but I start, and the Labour Party starts, with the principle that we believe in and will always uphold the Good Friday Agreement, and we believe in and will abide by international law,” he added.
“The single biggest barrier at the moment is a prime minister who doesn’t have those attributes, who is distracted, is divided.
“He’s doing everything he can to save his own skin rather than focusing on the issue here, which is how do we get people around negotiating table, flexibility on both sides so we can overcome the remaining problems.”
Mr Starmer also met President Michael D Higgins at Áras An Uachtaráin and visited the Guinness Storehouse.
He later met the Taoiseach, Mr Coveney and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, as well as Labour Party Leader Ivana Bacik.
Tomorrow, Mr Starmer will be in Belfast to meet political leaders in Stormont, where he is expected to call for compromise and negotiation to end the political deadlock over the return of the power-sharing.
Johnson risks Tory rebellion over Protocol legislation
Mr Johnson has been warned he risks a Tory rebellion if new legislation fails to offer the “serious prospect” of restoring Stormont power-sharing and the Good Friday Agreement.
Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin said he would vote against the measures should they fail to satisfy the criteria.
The DUP has long opposed the Northern Ireland Protocol and is refusing to enter the power-sharing institutions until issues with the post-Brexit settlement for the region are addressed.
The British government has pledged to table legislation that would override parts of the protocol, which governs trade Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the details are expected to emerge soon.
Mr Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex, told the House of Commons: “I voted for the Withdrawal Agreement and the protocol against my better judgement. And so it has proved.
“If the government does not bring forward a bill which holds out the serious prospect of the restoration of power-sharing in Northern Ireland and the restoration of the Good Friday Agreement, I will vote against it.”
British Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the UK government was “confident” its position is legal.
He told MPs: “The government is confident that our actions are lawful under international law and in line with longstanding convention that we do not set out internal legal deliberations.”
The minister failed to clarify which tribunal or court will be adjudicating whether the protocol legislation is within international law.
DUP MP Ian Paisley said: “The UK’s proposals to remove the friction of trade between GB and Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland and GB are in keeping with international trade law.
“It is the EU, under the terms of the 2014 trade facility agreement, that is in breach of its international obligation to reduce trade friction between co-signees, of which the EU and the UK are co-signees.”
He added: “The protocol is the worst example of a government or governments of Europe trying to use red tape to destroy commerce in the United Kingdom.”