BBC Spotlight, Boris Johnson and the NI Protocol: This is what happened the last time Boris Johnson made a promise to NI unionists

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Is it a case of once bitten, twice shy? Only time will tell but the last time Boris Johnson made a promise to unionists in Northern Ireland he didn't keep it.

Now Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson has been interviewed on the NI Protocol and the impact of Brexit, by BBC Northern Ireland investigative journalism programme, Spotlight.

Prime Minister Johnson has, in the past, refused to accept that the unfettered access he promised between Northern Ireland and Britain had been compromised by the United Kingdom leaving the European Union customs union and single market.

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Along with his EU counterparts, Boris Johnson negotiated, designed and agreed to implement the withdrawal agreement he described at the time of the 2019 general election as "oven ready".

Boris Johnson pictured during a press conference in Downing Street earlier today.Boris Johnson pictured during a press conference in Downing Street earlier today.
Boris Johnson pictured during a press conference in Downing Street earlier today.

It soon emerged that the NI Protocol which is part of the Withdrawal Agreement would raise serious issues and concerns within the unionist community in Northern Ireland, however Mr. Johnson continued to dismiss these grievances.

One of the most frustrating moments for unionists in post-Brexit Northern Ireland occurred in January when Boris Johnson appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, said: “There is no ‘Irish Sea Border’".

It is understood that that in tonight's Spotlight programme, Boris Johnson, has made another promise to unionists. This time, he is vowing to do whatever it takes to get rid of, what he describes as "ludicrous barriers" to trade that stem from the NI Protocol, which he agreed.

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Mr. Johnson apparently says he intends to "sandpaper" around the edges of the NI Protocol to make it more trade friendly for businesses in Northern Ireland and Britain.

However, the last time Mr. Johnson made a promise to unionists in Northern Ireland he didn't keep it and went on to do the very thing he said no British Conservative government could ever do and that is to put a border in the Irish Sea.

"We would be damaging the fabric of the union with regulatory checks and even customs controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland on top of those extra regulatory checks down the Irish Sea that are already included in the withdrawal agreement - no British Conservative government could or should sign up to any such arrangement," said Mr. Johnson to delegates at the DUP party conference in 2018.

Will unionists give him the benefit of the doubt? It's hard to know but it's difficult to see how "sandpapering" the protocol will be enough to satisfy unionists, of whom the vast majority want the protocol completely removed and replaced with something else.

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Spotlight: A Contested Centenary goes out on BBC1 Northern Ireland at 9.00pm on Tuesday April 20, 2021.


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