Boris Johnson urged to convene urgent talks following NI riots

The Prime Minister has been urged to convene urgent political talks in Northern Ireland in the wake of recent street disorder.

Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 4:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 4:29 pm
There were riots in Belfast on several nights last week

Labour shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh insisted Boris Johnson could not be a “casual observer” to the violence, claiming his Brexit strategy was one of the main factors behind rioting that has predominantly flared in loyalist working class areas.

Ms Haigh was responding to a parliamentary statement on the disturbances from Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis.

Mr Lewis said rioting that resulted in almost 90 police officers sustaining injuries was “totally unacceptable” and “utterly reprehensible”.

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Ms Haigh told the Commons Mr Johnson’s failure to keep promises that Brexit would not create a border in the Irish Sea had created a “very deep sense of hurt and anger” within the unionist and loyalist community.

“He made promises to the people of Northern Ireland that there would be no border with Great Britain, knowing full well his Brexit deal would introduce barriers across the Irish Sea,” she said.

“He made those promises because he knew economic separation would be unacceptable to the unionist community and the growing political instability we are seeing has its roots in the loss of trust that this caused.”

Ms Haigh added: “As a co-guarantor to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, the Prime Minister owes it to the people of Northern Ireland to restore the trust he has squandered.

“He is not a casual observer to these events. He must step up and urgently convene talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland and all parties to the (Northern Ireland) Protocol to find solutions and political agreement.”

Ms Haigh concluded: “The Prime Minister must face up to the consequences of his own actions and show the leadership communities are crying out for.”

Loyalists and unionists are vehemently opposed to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has created new economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.The arrangements, agreed by the UK and EU as a way to keep the land border on the island of Ireland free flowing, have been cited as one of the key causal factors behind the violence.

Another factor is the recent decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein politicians who attended a huge republican funeral amid lockdown restrictions.

Many within the loyalist community also point to resentment over long-standing concerns that they have missed out on the gains of the peace process in areas such as jobs, investment and housing.

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael called on the Prime Minister to “step up to the plate” and demonstrate leadership.

Mr Lewis insisted Mr Johnson had been involved in addressing issues in Northern Ireland “all the way through”.

But he insisted pre-existing structures, such as the joint EU/UK implementation committee, were the appropriate forums to deal with those matters.