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Boris Johnson Accused Of A "Leadership Vacuum" After Four Nights Of Violence In Northern Ireland

Boris Johnson Accused Of A 'Leadership Vacuum' After Four Nights Of Violence In Northern Ireland
5 min read

The Prime Minister is under growing pressure to take control of unrest in Northern Ireland after four nights of violence in the province led to 41 police officers being injured.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh on Wednesday accused Johnson of a leadership "vacuum" amid warnings that unrest in loyalist areas was expected to continue.

Stephen Farry, deputy leader of Northern Ireland's Alliance Party, wrote in The House that ministers "need to be much more proactive in both recognising the dangers and trying to manage the growing pressures".

The Northern Irish Assembly in Stormont will on Thursday return from Easter recess earlier than scheduled after scenes of violence in Derry, Carrickfergus and Belfast since the weekend.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said rioters had set a car alight and thrown petrol bombs and bricks at their officers.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has described the violence as "completely unacceptable".

Politicians in the province say a number of factors were contributing to the unrest: the PSNI's recent crackdown on paramilitary gangs, loyalist anger at the contentious decision of authorities not to prosecute Sinn Fein politicians who attended the funeral of former IRA chief Bobby Storey last month, and frustration among unionists over the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed by the UK and European Union negotiators, has created new barriers to trade between the province and the rest of the UK, with the disruption leading some businesses in Great Britain to stop sending goods across the Irish Sea altogether.

Northern Ireland's Justice Minister Naomi Long this morning told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "a number of factors" were contributing to the violence but said there was "undoubtedly anger in the community" over how the Westminster government had treated the province throughout Brexit.

"They [government] promised people unfettered access, which is not the case, and they denied the existence of borders even as those borders were being erected.

"That dishonesty and the lack of clarity around those issues have contributed to the sense of anger in parts of our community," she said, adding that it didn't justify the violence directed at police.

"We have to recognise, and this is fundamental, that when we decided that Brexit was the way forward, and when we choose a particularly hard Brexit, that there would be consequences," Long continued.

"Those consequences would be felt most acutely in Northern Ireland, where there is some land border."

Government sources this morning said they were hopeful the violence would subside over the next few days and that the Westminster government was working closely with the Northern Irish executive and PSNI in dealing with the unrest.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster said she condemned the violence "unequivocally" but said the Protocol had "played a critical part in causing greater unease" in the province.

Sammy Lee, the DUP MP for East Antrim, said the government's "culpability in imposing a border in the Irish Sea" as part of its Brexit deal with the EU had dealt "a hammer blow to Unionism’s confidence in the process".

"Whilst I share those genuinely held frustrations, violence and rioting is not the way to respond. Violence destroys lives and communities and must be condemned," he told PoliticsHome.The government and EU are in talks about how the Northern Ireland Protocol can potentially be revised in order to ease the new burdens on businesses trading across the Irish Sea. 

However, the two sides are trying to find solutions amid a tense atmosphere. 

Brussels last month launched legal proceedings against the government after ministers took unilateral steps to extend numerous grace periods for businesses without first securing the agreement of the EU. The government has until next Thursday to respond to that legal action. 

Brussels sources stress there is currently no viable alternative to the Northern Ireland Protocol and while the EU is open to discussing how it can be adapted to make it easier for affected businesses to adhere to, it is what Johnson signed up to as part of the UK's divorce from the bloc. 

The EU's ambassador to the UK, João Vale de Almeida, on Tuesday told The Guardian: "The protocol is the solution for the problems created by Brexit in Northern Ireland and that’s where I believe we should focus".

He said the debate about the Protocol should "not forget the origin of the issues" facing the province: Brexit and the UK government's decision to prioritise national sovereignty over access to European markets.

"We are talking about the impact of Brexit, which was decided by the British people,” he said.

"We are talking about the impact of the departure from the single market, which was decided on the British side as well."

Haigh, the Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, today said the violence in Northern Ireland was "reprehensible" and "unjustified and unjustifiable". Many of those involved are thought to be teenagers and young people who are being encouraged by paramilitary organisations.

"As a former Special Constable, it is sickening to see officers subjected to violent attacks simply for doing their job," the shadow minister said.

"The concerns and frustrations that communities are feeling must be addressed through dialogue and constitutional politics alone. Violence only serves to undermine the legitimate concerns many have".

She added: "Yet, where communities need to see leadership from the Prime Minister, there is instead a vacuum. That is having consequences."

The government has not responded to PoliticsHome's request for comment.


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