Boris Johnson accused of being DUP’s 'gopher' after Northern Ireland talks
Boris Johnson has been branded the DUP’s “gopher” by Sinn Fein as the party warned that a no-deal Brexit could lead to a border poll in Northern Ireland
The Prime Minister held talks with the political parties in Belfast to try and restore the power-sharing executive at Stormont on the final leg of his tour of the United Kingdom.
But he angered Sinn Fein, Alliance and the SDLP, who claimed he was unable to be impartial because of his party’s close ties to the DUP, whose 10 MPs prop up the Conservatives at Westminster.
Brexit also dominated the talks, with Mr Johnson told that if he follows through with his pledge to leave the EU without a deal it would lead to a poll on whether Northern Ireland should unite with Ireland.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Johnson “seems to have set the course for a disorderly and a crash Brexit”, which she warned would be “catastrophic for the Irish economy”.
Ms McDonald said: “We’ve made it clear that the extensive planning he tells us he’s carrying out in respect of a potential crash out Brexit has to include the constitutional question and the issue of a border poll here in Ireland.
“Brexit, in any of event but certainly a disorderly exit, represents in anybody’s language a dramatic change of circumstances on this island.
“And it would be unthinkable in those circumstances that people would not be given the opportunity to decide on our future together.”
But DUP leader Arlene Foster hit back, saying the PM would be “neutral on the administration of government here in Northern Ireland”.
She added: “He’ll never be neutral on the Union, and talk of a border poll, he told us, was not something he was entertaining.”
The party’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds meanwhile criticised Sinn Fein, saying: “When people talk about a confidence and supply agreement that is toxic and has poisoned the well, I think those people who have benefited in the health service, in our schools, in our infrastructure, where we’re going to get broadband at the appropriate level across the province, not least in the constituencies of Sinn Fein members who boycott and upset themselves in Westminster.”
'THEY POISONED THE GROUNDWATER'
The Northern Irish Assembly has been shuttered for more than two years following the collapse of the agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP, with repeated attempts to restore it ending in deadlock over an Irish language law, equal marriage and abortion rights.
Ahead of his arrival, Mr Johnson said he would do “everything in my power to make the ongoing talks to restore devolution a success” - but after their meeting Ms McDonald said his stated claim of impartiality was "laughable".
She said: "Nobody believes that because there are no grounds to believe there is any kind of impartiality, much less strict impartiality."
The Sinn Fein leader said the confidence-and-supply deal signed between Theresa May and the DUP in 2017 had "poisoned the groundwater" at Stormont.
"He asked for our advice and we have strongly advised him that to make progress here he needs to ensure that he is not the DUP's gopher, he needs to stop mollycoddling them, he needs to spell out the realities of life to them and put pressure on his unionist colleagues to ensure we can land on an equitable and sustainable agreement," she added.
That criticism was echoed by the leader of the SDLP party Nichola Mallon, who said Mr Johnson viewed the situation at Stormont “through the eyes of the DUP”.
And Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance Party, said after meeting Mr Johnson: “I don’t know if the Prime Minister has a plan, if he does he certainly disguised it well.
“But I hope that if he doesn’t have a plan today he goes home tonight fully aware of the need to get one and get one fast.”
Earlier Mr Johnson had denied that having dinner with Ms Foster on Tuesday night had removed his ability to be a neutral powerbroker in the talks.
'STEADFAST IN HIS COMMITMENT TO NORTHERN IRELAND'
Following the talks, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister told all of the parties that he was determined to bring this process to a successful conclusion and that he would do everything he could to make it happen.
“He said that while there had been constructive progress in recent weeks at Stormont, that there now needed to be serious and intense engagement to get this done and that he had faith that all parties would step up to the challenge.”
On Brexit they added: “He said that in all scenarios, the Government is steadfast in its commitment to the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement and that in no circumstances would there be physical checks or infrastructure on the border.
“He also made clear his belief and commitment in the rigorous impartiality set out in the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement, while at the same time reaffirming his determination to strengthen the Union and Northern Ireland’s place within it.”