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Boris Johnson: PM promises to develop relationship with Ireland

1 month ago 24
Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Boris JohnsonImage copyright Reuters Image caption Boris Johnson greeted Micheál Martin with an elbow bump outside Hillsborough Castle in County Down

The prime minister has promised to develop Britain's relationship with the Republic of Ireland after meeting its new taoiseach.

Boris Johnson greeted Irish PM Micheál Martin with an elbow bump outside Hillsborough Castle in County Down.

It was Mr Johnson's first visit to Northern Ireland since Stormont power sharing was restored in January.

It was also his first face-to-face meeting with Mr Martin since a new government was formed in Dublin.

Mr Johnson said he had the "honour of meeting the taoiseach several years ago" and he was "very pleased to develop [their] friendship and relationship now".

It was his first visit since the coronavirus pandemic struck and there have been calls for closer collaboration between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain to tackle the threat.

The pair are expected to discuss Brexit, including the continuing negotiations between the UK and the EU, with less than six months to the end of the transition period.

The transition period is due to end on 1 January and a new "trade border" will begin operating between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Last week, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove set out details of £355m in funding for a system to ease trade going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson said he looked forward to developing the relationship between the UK and Republic of Ireland "in all sorts of ways - east-west, north-south, you name it".

'Cornerstone of progress'

Mr Martin said the pair would enjoy a warm working relationship.

"It is important for us both in terms of the British-Irish relationship which has been the cornerstone of much progress on the island of Ireland and between our two countries for well over two to three decades, and we want to maintain that," he said.

"It is challenging times ahead with Covid, Brexit, all of that."

Image copyright Brian Lawless/PA Image caption Boris Johnson with Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster at Hillsborough Castle

The Fianna Fáil leader said it was particularly fitting the engagement was taking place so soon after the death of former SDLP leader John Hume.

"We remember John at moments like this because he did so much to facilitate these kind of meetings and make them much more regular in the normal course of events," he said.

Belfast trip a test of PM's optimism

By Stephen Walker, BBC News NI political correspondent

Boris Johnson presents himself as an optimist - a glass half-full prime minister rather than a glass half-empty one.

However, the bonhomie and jolly good nature he exudes can't hide the fundamental difficulties he faces when it comes to relations with the Stormont parties and Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

On Brexit, many around the NI Executive table worry that Northern Ireland will lose out and have big concerns over trading arrangements once the transition period ends.

There is much scepticism over what a "Boris Brexit" looks like - even his once-close allies in the DUP have real concerns about economic life for some businesses after the EU withdrawal.

On the fight against Covid-19 there are still worries that an influx of travellers from Britain could lead to a spike in the pandemic in Northern Ireland and the Republic - the new taoiseach sees things differently from his counterpart in London.

Mr Johnson will also highlight the additional funding for the Stormont executive, his support for a city growth deal and the five million pieces of PPE (personal protective equipment) that have come to NI from other parts of the UK.

As he tours the UK, he is a salesman for the union and not surprisingly he has also used this trip to flag up Northern Ireland's centenary in 2021.

Arlene Foster says events to mark the centenary can be inclusive. Michelle O'Neill says there is nothing to celebrate.

Welcome to Belfast, prime minister.

Earlier Mr Johnson met Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.

The prime minister outlined the first stage of plans to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland's foundation.

Mrs Foster said: "I think it is an event for the whole of the Northern Ireland, looking forward to the future, looking forward to our young people having a place in the world, and that is what I want to see happening for our centenary plans."

Northern Ireland was created in May 1921 following the partition of Ireland.

A forum and historical advisory panel will work alongside the government to commemorate the anniversary.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said the centenary year would promote the region on a world stage.

"I am delighted that the prime minister is in Northern Ireland today, and has announced the first stage of our plans to mark this centenary," he said.

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