Boris Johnson will urge politicians in Northern Ireland to restore power sharing as the government seeks to resolve the standoff with Brussels over post-Brexit trade deals.
The Prime Minister will travel to Belfast on Monday for a series of crisis talks after the DUP blocked the election of a Speaker in the Stormont Assembly, preventing him from sitting.
The move was bitterly condemned by Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill – whose party is now the largest in the Assembly after elections earlier this month – and other party leaders.
Government sources said Mr Johnson would use a series of private meetings to deliver a ‘hard message’ that parties must come together to form an executive and assembly if protocol issues are to be resolved.
He is expected to say that while the UK government will ‘play its part to ensure political stability’, politicians must ‘get back to work’ so they can answer the ‘bread and butter questions’ for voters.
The DUP is fiercely opposed to the protocol as it requires checks on goods from Britain to Northern Ireland, in order to keep the border with the Republic open in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement.
British ministers have repeatedly said they will act unilaterally if an agreement cannot be reached to reduce the impact of checks, which have been accused of hitting businesses and fueling community tensions.
In his talks, Mr Johnson is expected to say that while the government will ‘always keep the door open for real dialogue’ it will be ‘necessary to act’ to protect the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) if it does not. there is no change in the EU’s position.
He will insist that the government never suggested scrapping the protocol and will acknowledge that there will still need to be a treaty governing the UK’s relationship with the EU in relation to Northern Ireland in order to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic.
However, he will say the ‘delicate balance’ of the GFA has been upset, eroding the historic economic ties between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, leaving the Unionist community feeling threatened in its aspirations and identity. .
The Prime Minister will argue that the UK and EU’s ‘common aim’ should be to agree a reformed protocol that can gain the ‘widest possible cross-community support’ when faced with a vote by consent in 2024.
Mr Johnson will also use his visit to ensure the fulfillment of three pre-existing commitments on a language and culture package, guaranteeing women and girls access to abortion services and introducing new measures to address the legacy of the past.