NI unionists warned Boris Johnson is leading an ‘English nationalist party’

The DUP’s Ian Paisley criticised the Prime Minister for failing to speak up about the powersharing crisis at Stormont.

Richard Wheeler
Monday 07 February 2022 21:55
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the Uefa Euro 2020 Final at Wembley Stadium (Mike Egerton/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the Uefa Euro 2020 Final at Wembley Stadium (Mike Egerton/PA)

Boris Johnson is feared to be leading an “English nationalist party” which is “betraying” unionist people in Northern Ireland, MPs have heard.

The DUP’s Ian Paisley criticised the Prime Minister for failing to speak up about the powersharing crisis at Stormont, insisting he has a responsibility to resolve it.

His remarks came as the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill cleared Parliament and is now on the verge of becoming law.

The Bill was drawn up in a bid to protect powersharing at Stormont by offering greater stability in the event of a political crisis.

It relates to undertakings the UK Government made in the New Decade, New Approach Deal, such as extending the time period within which a snap election must be called if devolution collapses.

It would also lengthen the time allowed to appoint Northern Ireland ministers after an election, and also allow ministers to stay in office for up to 24 weeks or for up to 48 weeks in the event of the first minister or deputy first minister resigning.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill was removed from her post as deputy First Minister following last week’s resignation of DUP First Minister Paul Givan in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Paisley (North Antrim) told the Commons: “I think there is truth to the point tonight that four days into a crisis, almost five days, the Prime Minister of this nation has not spoken. I think that’s wrong.

“I think the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom ought to have spoken on Thursday evening on this issue.

“I think he should not have shut up about it until the issue is resolved.

“I think they are his responsibilities.

“When you view a constitutional crisis through a prism of a divided community, which is what Northern Ireland is, you create suspicions and you raise concerns unless those matters are properly addressed.

“And I think it’s very obvious to some people that there is a fear that the Conservative and Unionist Party, which governs this nation, is actually a nationalist party, an English nationalist party, that is not concerned about a border in the Irish Sea, but is concerned about a red wall on the mainland island, and that’s what eats them up every single day.

“If that is their only concern then that Government is betraying the union and the unionist people, and that’s the reality of where we are this evening.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also questioned the whereabouts of Mr Johnson in recent days.

He earlier said: “Nowhere to be seen is the Prime Minister of this precious United Kingdom, and I think if I was a unionist in Northern Ireland today, and I can assure you I’m not, I’d be looking very closely at what this Government and how this Government treats them.”

Mr Eastwood later said for months the DUP has “held a gun to their own head” over the protocol and Brexit matters, adding: “Now they’ve shot and what they have got?

“This will never precipitate the result that they want because it’s impossible to do what the DUP wants and this is the reality, this is not about the protocol, this is about an election that will come in the next few months and all this is about is shoring up the unionist support.”

For the Government, Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns said: “I would just like to say that the Secretary of State (Brandon Lewis) is in close contact with the party leaders, with the Government of the Irish Republic and others.”

Addressing DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Mr Burns added: “Our message very strongly to the party of the member opposite is we would rather he returned his party to the executive, a stable executive, stable governance, is in the interests of the people who matter most in all of this, the people of Northern Ireland.”

He also told MPs the Government “remains absolutely committed” to resolving the issue of the protocol.

Conservative former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith said the powersharing crisis was a “deeply depressing state of affairs” for people that want to make progress on education, health and budget matters.

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