Boris Johnson to press DUP as ministers try to dial down Brexit war of words with the EU
Government sources suggested ministers want to take some of the heat out of the debate, which in recent days has led to claims the UK is heading for a trade war with the EU.
But they also made clear no decision has yet been taken on whether or not the UK will unilaterally tear up part of its Brexit deal with the EU. The idea is expected to be discussed at a meeting of ministers next week.
The prime minster will make his call on Monday when he visits Belfast for the first time since the Stormont assembly elections earlier this month.
Sinn Fein made history by becoming the first nationalist party to win the right to nominate a first minister, but the DUP has refused to re-enter government with the party until the Northern Ireland protocol, which it warns has created a border down the Irish Sea, is reformed.
Mr Johnson is expected to deliver a “tough message” as he meets all the party leaders in Belfast, that politicians must “get back to work” to deal with bread-and-butter issues like the cost of living, NHS backlogs and crime. Any action to fix the protocol must result in all parties coming together to form an executive and assembly, he will add.
He will also stress that, although it believes it must be reformed, the government does not want to scrap the protocol and accepts the need for a treaty to prevent a hard border in Ireland and protect the integrity of the EU single market.
The UK and the EU should have a “shared objective” to find a reformed Brexit deal which enjoys “the broadest possible cross-community support” in Northern Ireland, he will say.
He will update leaders of the main political parties in Northern Ireland on the UK’s discussions with EU leaders in recent days. Ministers will always keep the door open to “genuine” dialogue but if the EU does not change its position there will be a “necessity to act” to protect the Good Friday Agreement, he will add.
Unionists oppose the protocol which put checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from other parts of the UK, warning it has created an artificial border separating them from Great Britain.
But other parties, including Sinn Fein, support the protocol, arguing it gives Northern Irish businesses the best of both worlds of the UK and the EU’s single markets.
Downing Street sources last night played down suggestions Mr Johnson was preparing to give a speech on the protocol imminently.
At the weekend Mr Johnson suggested talk of a trade war with the EU was overblown. “I think in the scale of things at the moment, in the sweep of things, what we’re really trying to fix is we’re trying to solve a very difficult political problem in Northern Ireland itself with what is actually some pretty simple bureaucratic fixes,” he told the Daily Mail, adding that he was not “bluffing” in his concern about the need to get Stormont back up and running.
In Belfast, Mr Johnson will also guarantee the delivery of three pre-existing commitments: a language and culture package, access to abortion services, and new measures to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.