Saturday 24 August 2019

Boris Johnson’s allies slam Leo Varadkar over 'crass' approach to Border

Johnson solidifies DUP relationship on Belfast trip

Impartiality: Boris Johnson and Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith at Stormont. Photo: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye /PA Wire
Impartiality: Boris Johnson and Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith at Stormont. Photo: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye /PA Wire

Hugh O'Connell in Stormont

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of destabilising the chances of a Brexit deal and aligning himself with Sinn Féin over his "crass" approach to the Border.

As the stand-off with the UK over the Brexit backstop continues, Mr Varadkar came under sustained attack from Boris Johnson's closest allies in the DUP yesterday following their meeting with the new UK prime minister at Stormont House in Belfast.

Mr Johnson further strengthened relations with the unionist party that underpins his Tory minority government in Westminster by ruling out a Border poll, something the Taoiseach spoke of last Friday as being increasingly possible in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, senior DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson hit back at the Taoiseach's claim that, in the event of no-deal, "increasingly you will see liberal protestants and liberal unionists starting to ask the question as to where they feel more at home".

Mr Donaldson said: "I haven't seen any liberal unionists who want a Border poll. The only people pushing for a Border poll are Sinn Féin - I would question whether it is wise for the Taoiseach to align himself with Sinn Féin on a Border poll issue."

He added: "The Taoiseach certainly isn't impartial when it comes to pushing for a united Ireland... the Taoiseach isn't regarded as neutral any more than the prime minister is regarded as neutral on the union."

Mr Varadkar's unplanned remarks at the MacGill Summer School last Friday came within hours of the Tánaiste Simon Coveney criticising Mr Johnson's demand for the abolition of the backstop at a press conference in Stormont.

"Simon Coveney was up in Stormont Buildings here last week, Boris Johnson would never wander into the Dáil. Respect has to be shown both ways," a senior DUP source said.

Unity by consent: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar mooted a poll on the Border. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Unity by consent: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar mooted a poll on the Border. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

Another DUP source said Mr Varadkar's comments were hindering the chances of reaching a Brexit deal.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Mr Varadkar was engaged in "project fear mark two" and had "very crassly" displayed a newspaper report about a deadly IRA Border post bombing in the 1970s at a Brussels summit last year "without even thinking of the victims who'd been associated with that atrocity".

The party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Mr Johnson made "very, very clear" that the conditions for a Border poll had not been met.

"Therefore those who advocate and talk it up are actually in breach of the very agreements that they say they stand by and want implemented by others," he added.

An Irish Government spokesman denied the suggestion Mr Varadkar was in breach of the Good Friday Agreement with his remarks.

"As the agreement explicitly provides for unity by consent and a Border poll in certain circumstances in the future and demands that unionist aspirations be respected as much as nationalist ones, it's wrong to consider aspiring to Irish unity to be provocative or contrary to the GFA. It's not," the spokesman said.

"The DUP is well aware of this objective which has been communicated to them on numerous occasions both publicly and privately. While they talk about sensible or workable alternatives, they have not come up with one."

Mr Johnson underscored his alliance with the DUP on his brief visit to Belfast by meeting its leadership for a private dinner on Tuesday prior to talks with the leaders of the four other main parties, who all criticised the move.

Mr Johnson left Stormont following talks with all five parties yesterday morning - but there was no indication that his visit had helped to break the logjam which has left the North without an Assembly and Executive for over two years.

Downing Street said the prime minister "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".

A source close to Mr Varadkar said that while the Taoiseach's comments on a Border poll were unplanned, he believed it was important to highlight "societal shifts" that are taking place in the North, including large Pride parades in support of the LGBT+ community and the election of an Alliance Party MEP.

Irish Independent

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