UK Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of taking a “wrecking ball” to relations with Ireland and the EU with his plan to unilaterally scrap aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The UK government announced last month that it would introduce new legislation overriding parts of the protocol, which is part of Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin warned this week that the move would represent a “historic low point” in Anglo–Irish relations.
On a visit to Dublin on Thursday, Starmer said, “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, “With good faith, statecraft and trust around the negotiating table, which is what a Labour government would bring, these problems can be overcome.”
He said he wanted to reiterate Labour’s “renewed commitment to the Good Friday Agreement,” and said Boris Johnson’s Conservative government is “divided and frankly taking a wrecking ball to relations between Ireland and the UK.”
Starmer met Irish President Michael D. Higgins and Prime Minister Martin, as well as the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.
Martin wrote on Twitter that he had a “good” meeting with the Labour leader, who told reporters it was a “very positive” discussion.
Coveney also wrote on Twitter: “Very welcome visit from Keir Starmer today to focus on the importance of British/Irish relations and finding agreed ways forward, through negotiation, to outstanding issues of concern. There are no current issues that cannot be resolved with good will and pragmatism.”
On Friday, the Labour leader will be in Belfast to meet political leaders in the Northern Ireland Assembly, where he is expected to call for compromise and negotiation to end the political deadlock over the return of the power-sharing executive.
The Northern Ireland Protocol has been fiercely opposed by unionists in the British province, who complain that it effectively keeps Northern Ireland within the EU single market while erecting a border in the Irish Sea between the province and mainland Britain.
Northern Ireland has not had a functioning local government since February, when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), then the largest party in the regional assembly, withdrew from the power-sharing executive in protest against the protocol.
PA Media contributed to this report.