Boris Johnson visited Northern Ireland on 31st July for the first time as Prime Minister. He spent the morning engaging in talks with representatives from the five main political parties in the country, who warned Johnson about how damaging a no-deal Brexit would be for NI.
Johnson’s visit to NI comes a week after new Secretary of State, Julian Smith, visited the region. Smith joined Johnson on the visit, and called the parties together for a meeting after the new Prime Minister left Stormont. Following this discussion, Smith noted it is his “priority to restore devolution as soon as possible.”
In talks with Sinn Fein, party leader Mary Lou McDonald argued that if a no-deal Brexit were to emerge, a vote on Irish reunification must follow. McDonald reasoned this should be the case as Brexit would change the situation on the island of Ireland, saying that “it would be unthinkable…that people would not be given the opportunity to decide on our future together.”
A spokesperson for Johnson noted that after Brexit, the government will be respecting and upholding the Good Friday Agreement, and therefore there will be no physical checks at the Irish border. However, Johnson has said the backstop – an insurance negotiated as part of the withdrawal agreement – is a “monstrosity.”
Sinn Fein also questioned the impartiality Johnson stated he had on issues facing Northern Ireland. This was in response to his meeting the evening before discussions began, wherein he had dinner with the DUP. The DUP are notably in a confidence-and-supply deal with the Conservative Party, meaning they support the Conservative minority government at Westminster.