Boris Johnson continued his tour of the UK with a visit to Northern Ireland on Wednesday where he met with the five main political parties at Stormont House to discuss Brexit and the possibility of reinstating a power-sharing government. On his first prime ministerial visit to Northern Ireland, Johnson pledged to do everything possible to restore power-sharing in Belfast which has been suspended since January 2017, and reaffirmed his commitment to upholding the Good Friday Agreement.
Despite insisting that he will act with “absolute impartiality” when engaging with Northern Ireland’s political parties, the newly-elected Prime Minister held a dinner with the leader of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, and other senior party members. The meeting came ahead of a review of the Conservative Party’s confidence and supply deal with the DUP whose support keeps Johnson’s minority government in power in Westminster.
Following a meeting with Mr Johnson, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald reportedly told the British Prime Minister that the “ongoing indulgence of the DUP and rejectionist unionism has got to stop” while the Social Democratic and Labour Party deputy leader Nichola Mallon echoed similar negative sentiments and spoke of her “blunt” engagement with Johnson.
Earlier on Tuesday, it emerged that Johnson had spoken by phone to the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar – the first contact between the two leaders since Mr Johnson took over as Prime Minister. In a 15 minute call, the new PM reiterated his pledge to take the U.K. out of the European Union on October 31st come what may and said that any new deal must see the backstop – the insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland – abolished. Following the call, the Taoiseach’s office issued a statement saying that Mr Varadkar emphasised to Mr Johnson that the backstop was “necessary as a consequence” of the decisions taken by the UK. He reaffirmed the EU’s unity on their position that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened.
Mr Johnson faced his first electoral test in a by-election on Thursday which resulted in his parliamentary majority being reduced to one. The Conservatives failed to retain the Welsh seat of Brecon and Radnorshire, with the pro-European Liberal Democrats securing victory.