The leader of Sinn Féin has accused Boris Johnson of playing games with Ireland and using it as a “pawn” in the UK’s continual trade battle with the EU, ahead of the prime minister’s visit on Monday.
Johnson is due to touch down in Belfast on Monday for talks after the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) blocked the election of a speaker in the Stormont assembly, a week after Sinn Féin topped the polls in elections.
Johnson will hold talks with politicians in Northern Ireland, but the Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said he was in “cahoots” with the DUP in stopping a new executive and assembly sitting.
Under Stormont rules, a new administration cannot be formed without the largest unionist party taking part.
McDonald said it was part of “a game of brinkmanship” with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol and post-Brexit trading agreements.
Speaking after a meeting of the party’s ruling council, she said: “He has connived with the DUP to use Ireland, the north of Ireland, to use unionism in Ireland as a pawn in a wider game that is being played out with the European Union.
“That is clearly a shameful tactic and approach and it’s one that is absolutely not acceptable.
“We’re not one bit naive as to what’s happening here – it is very clear that the Tory government in London is in cahoots with the DUP to stall and to hold back progress, to frustrate the will of the people as expressed in the election and that, to anybody who calls themselves a democrat, is clearly unacceptable and clearly shameful. And that case will be made to Boris Johnson.”
The DUP, now Northern Ireland’s second party, is opposed to the protocol as it means checks on goods passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It allows the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic to stay open, in line with the Good Friday agreement.
However, the checks have meant delays for businesses.
The DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, has said a “very clear message” needs to be sent to the UK government and the EU.
On Friday the former Brexit minister David Frost joined calls to scrap parts of the protocol. It is thought the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, could announce plans for legislation next week that would disapply some of the protocol. He said the UK should not “fear” a trade war with the EU.
McDonald said: “We’ve been here before. The British government threw out the process of Brexit and the negotiations and the ratification of the protocol.
“They have not acted in good faith, they have consistently threatened to act and have acted unilaterally.
“Let’s just be clear, the protocol is going nowhere, the protocol is a necessary outworking of Brexit, for which the Tory party and the DUP campaigned.
“The British government cannot use Ireland as a pawn, we won’t be the collateral damage in the Brexit negotiations.”
The DUP had a poor night in the elections, losing three seats, and its refusal to elect a speaker was criticised by Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill. The previous executive collapsed due to the resignation of the first minister, DUP politician Paul Givan, in February.
She added: “The British government have assisted the DUP in blocking tactics and this needs to stop. Certainly when we meet Mr Johnson on Monday we will make that clear to him.”