Irish premier Leo Varadkar says he regrets imposition of protocol against wishes of unionists

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he understands why unionists in Northern Ireland believe the protocol has weakened the union, and regrets that it has been imposed with their support.

The Irish premier made the comments in an interview with the BBC, but insisted the post-Brexit trading arrangements are working.

The Fine Gael leader, who became the Taoiseach for the second time last month as part of an arrangement with coalition partners Fianna Fail, was speaking to the BBC's economics editor Faisal Islam and had been asked whether anything could have been done differently during the protocol talks.

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"In the same way Brexit was imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of both communities, the protocol was imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of two communities," Mr Varadkar said.

Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

He also said he understood why unionists believe the protocol – which places barriers on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in order to maintain frictionless movement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – has "lessened the links [and] weakened the union between Northern Ireland and Britain" without them "having a proper say as to how it operates".

In his interview, the Taoiseach also said he regrets the absence of a devolved, powersharing government at Stormont in comments that echoed similar remarks from his coalition government partner Fianna Fail leader and Tanaiste Micheal Martin on Thursday.

Mr Martin, speaking following a British-Irish conference on Thursday, said: “I’m passionately of the view that when you have elections, what should naturally follow is the convening of an assembly, or a parliament and a government – that’s democracy in action and the people of Northern Ireland deserve no less and I’ve made these points to the DUP and to other political parties.”

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Meanwhile, the latest deadline to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland has passed with the devolved institutions in Belfast still in cold storage.

The UK government has once again assumed a legal duty to call a snap Assembly election in the region within 12 weeks.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris made clear he will not make an announcement about any potential election date for at least several weeks.