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Boris Johnson 'wasn't even aware' of Stormont electoral process, NI politician claims
16 May 2022, 18:32 | Updated: 16 May 2022, 20:21
A Northern Ireland politician has told LBC Boris Johnson "wasn't even aware" of the Stormont electoral process of government in talks today.
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr she was "flabbergasted" the Prime Minister had not been briefed by officials ahead of the talks with the five major parties in Stormont in Belfast today.
The Northern Irish government, as part of power sharing arrangements agreed in the Sunningdale and Belfast/Good Friday Agreements must always be a coalition between Unionist and Nationalist parties.
As such, parties need to declare their ideology as unionist, nationalist or other. The Alliance Party is identified as other meaning they cannot head the government no matter how many MLAs are returned in an election.
Ms Bradshaw said: "Whenever we talked about the need to reform the designation system with the Prime Minister today that he wasn't even aware that this system was in place.
"It's quite flabbergasting that officials have not told him that this was a huge part of the problem here.
"We hope that he will go back and reflect on this with the Secretary of State because it's something that needs to be reformed as a matter or urgency."
The Prime Minister had travelled to Belfast for a meeting with leaders of the five major parties in Stormont today following months of tensions over the working of the protocol, which forms part of the UK's Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.
Under its terms, the UK is required to impose checks on some goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in order to maintain an open border while protecting the EU single market.
You can also listen to the podcast Tonight with Andrew Marr only on Global Player.
Mr Johnson told broadcasters during a trip to Belfast today: "We don't want to scrap it [the Northern Ireland protocol]. But we think it can be fixed. And actually five of the five parties I talked to today also think it needs reform."
He said none of the five parties he met with "likes the way it's operating, they all think it can be reformed and and improved - from Sinn Fein to SDLP, DUP, all of them."
But following the meeting he was accused by Sinn Féin of "taking sides" and prioritising "placating the DUP" over the protocol.
Put to him that it might not be the wisest move to threaten to tear up the agreement during a cost-of-living crisis, given the potential implications for trade, he said: "What we're doing is sticking up for the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and what we're doing is trying to protect and preserve the government of Northern Ireland.
"And yes, you're right, there's a cost-of-living issue, but that's certainly not being helped by extra barriers to trade, extra burdens on business that are being caused by the protocol.
"And it certainly won't be helped if we have a situation where the Executive isn't up and running in Northern Ireland. You need the Executive, you need the Assembly, and that is what the people of Northern Ireland want us as politicians to focus on."
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed Mr Johnson's visit to Northern Ireland.
He said: "We've waited a long time on this moment. We've waited a long time to see the Government bring forward proposals that represent action to deal with the problems caused by the Irish Sea border."
He said that he expected Mr Johnson's Government to "make their position clear" on the protocol later this week.
When asked whether the tabling of legislation on the protocol was enough to restore the executive, or whether legislation needed to be passed, Sir Jeffrey said: "The tabling of legislation is words. What I need is decisive action. And that means I want to see the government enacting legislation that will bring the solution that we need. But let's see what the Government are prepared to do."
In response to questions on whether Mr Johnson was "on the DUP's side", Sir Jeffrey said that the assertion was "for the fairies", and that Mr Johnson was meeting with Stormont leaders because it is "his job to protect Northern Ireland".
"Sinn Fein need to stop this puerile nonsense that they've been engaging in of late, get serious and let's deal with serious issues, instead of this silly approach that they take of attacking everybody who doesn't agree with them.
"The Prime Minister has a duty to resolve these issues, that is why he is here."
Speaking after his party's meeting with Mr Johnson, Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said: "If the UK Government takes steps tomorrow or this week to fix some of the issues that we see with the protocol, it is important that we then nominate a speaker and we get back to government and start doing the work.
"And if we do not get back into government, then we need to identify who is blocking it and we need to bypass them."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood had a similarly strong warning. "If the British Government tomorrow signal their intent to break international law by legislating to rip up the protocol at Westminster, he [Mr Johnson] will not have the support of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland," he said.
The Alliance Party described a meeting with the Prime Minister today as "robust and very frustrating".
Meanwhile deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "We were giving him a very clear warning that if he plays fast and loose with the Protocol and the indeed Good Friday Agreement, then he is going to be adding more and more instability to Northern Ireland.
"On the one hand, he is coming here with a certain set of stated outcomes, but all his actions belie what he is notionally trying to achieve."