Boris Johnson must be more “active, engaged and interested” in dealing with the recent disorder in Northern Ireland, an MP has said, as ministers faced further calls to replace the protocol.
SDLP MP Colum Eastwood noted the Prime Minister was “very speedy” in responding to the announcement that six British football clubs were to join a breakaway league earlier this week and urged him to prioritise “dealing with our peace process”.
But, while criticising the “cowardly” fireball bomb bid on a police officer near Dungiven, Co Londonderry, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Mr Johnson is “very much engaged” with the issues of growing tensions on the island.
Speaking during departmental questions in the Commons, Mr Eastwood said: “Dissident republicans tried to murder a police officer and her young child in County Derry this week.
“Can I take this opportunity as an Irish nationalist to send those dissident republicans a very clear message – your quarrel is not with the police, it is not with the British state, it is with the people of Ireland, and that is a battle that you will never, ever win.
“Given the Prime Minister’s very speedy response to an issue about football, as important as that is, compared to his response and the quickness of his response in terms of violence on the streets of Northern Ireland for almost 10 days, does the Secretary of State agree with me that we need an active and engaged and interested Prime Minister in terms of dealing with our peace process?”
Mr Lewis replied: “Yes, absolutely, and I am proud of the fact that we do. We have a Prime Minister who is very much engaged.”
In condemning the attack on a PSNI officer, which has been blamed on the New IRA, Mr Lewis continued: “Those who attack our public servants and emergency services personnel have nothing to offer the community they claim to represent.
“I’m sure the whole community will join everybody across this House in support for that officer and will come forward hopefully with any information they may have to help bring those responsible to justice swiftly.”
Amid the disturbances in Northern Ireland, shadow secretary, Louise Haigh said the Government’s plans for the British-Irish Council to next convene in June were “not urgent enough”.
Ms Haigh told the Commons: “In the 23 years since the Belfast Good Friday Agreement it is not an exaggeration to say that the peace process has never been as vulnerable as it is now.
“The Secretary of State bears a responsibility to help stabilise the situation, so will he ensure that the British-Irish Council is now urgently convened to give Northern Ireland representatives a voice in discussions around the protocol and huge decisions about their own future?”
She added: “I would suggest that June 11 is not an urgent meeting and would recommend that that meeting be brought forward urgently to discuss these important issues.
But Mr Lewis said regular meetings of the council “have never stopped”, with the last one happening in “November last year”.
Meanwhile, DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley) raised concerns about issues caused by the Northern Ireland protocol for businesses and consumers.
He asked the Secretary of State: “What steps are the Government going to take to replace this protocol with arrangements that fully restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market?”
Mr Lewis said he has been “very clear that there are outstanding issues with the protocol, some of them are difficult issues” and that he wants to “restore confidence across all communities, the whole community of Northern Ireland”.
He added: “We are determined to do that, I think we have shown with the actions we have taken we want to do that in a pragmatic, flexible way that works for people of Northern Ireland.”