Boris Johnson set for talks over renewed focus on Northern Ireland

Boris Johnson has arrived in Northern Ireland for his first time as prime minister, promising to do “everything in my power” to help efforts to restore the power-sharing government.
On Tuesday night, Mr Johnson held a private meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose party he relies on for support in key votes in Parliament.
The PM will meet the five main Stormont parties for more talks on Wednesday.
Brexit is also certain to be on the agenda for the day’s talks.
The issue over what will happen at the land border on the island of Ireland after Brexit – and the proposed Irish backstop – has caused deep divisions between the parties at Stormont.
Mr Johnson’s trip is the last in his three-day tour around the UK’s devolved nations, after visiting Scotland and Wales.
Northern Ireland has been without a government since 2017, when the power-sharing parties split in a bitter row. Talks to find an agreement are ongoing but deadlocked, and Mr Johnson will meet those involved in the discussions.
Mr Johnson arrived in Belfast on Tuesday evening and was accompanied by a police cortege as he made his way through the city.
He met Ms Foster as well as DUP MPs Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Nigel Dodds for a dinner, according to BBC News NI political reporter Jayne McCormack.
The DUP is due to renew the confidence-and-supply agreement which Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party depends on for a working majority in the House of Commons.
Ahead of the trip, Mr Johnson said: “The people of Northern Ireland have now been without an executive and assembly for two years and six months – put simply this is much, much too long.
“I am going to do everything in my power to make the ongoing talks to restore devolution a success.”
The latest talks process to get the assembly up and running again began on 7 May, co-chaired by the British and Irish governments.
Several attempts to kick-start devolution have already failed.
It is understood Mr Johnson will meet each of the parties separately for one-on-one discussions, alongside the new Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith.
Mr Smith has already met with the parties since joining the Northern Ireland Office.
The talks have been taking place for almost three months – but there is no sign of an end to the impasse between the two largest parties.
Sinn Féin insists the “outstanding issues remain the same” and wants the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to commit to an Irish language act – something the DUP has refused to support.
The recent move by MPs to legislate for same-sex marriage and liberalise abortion laws in Northern Ireland, if devolution isn’t restored by 21 October, has not helped the atmosphere either.
The DUP is opposed to a law change on both issues, but Sinn Féin is in favour and says it accepts the change being implemented through Westminster, if some of the Stormont parties are not willing to do it sooner.
There are also calls for other issues to be taken through Westminster in the absence of devolved ministers at Stormont.
Mr Johnson has insisted the UK must leave the EU by 31 October “no matter what”, even if that means without a deal.
There have been stark warnings about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Northern Ireland.
This week, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was asked whether that might mean direct rule was needed, which would see Westminster regaining control of devolved powers and legislating for Northern Ireland.
Mr Raab told the BBC the government would make sure all arrangements are in place “so that we don’t have a vacuum” in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s unionist parties have called for the British government to reinstate direct rule, but nationalist parties advocate ‘joint authority’ and say Dublin should have greater input in decision-making for Northern Ireland in that scenario.
Number 10 says the focus of Mr Johnson’s visit to Northern Ireland is the latest attempt to restore devolution.
But given the new prime minister’s approach to the Brexit deadlock, it is likely to take up much of his discussions with the Stormont parties.
Northern Ireland is crucial in the Brexit debate because of the border it shares with the Republic of Ireland, which will become the UK’s only land border with the EU after Brexit.
The backstop is the insurance policy negotiated as part of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, which aims to keep the border as seamless as it is now and avoid land border checks.
But Mr Johnson has referred to it as a “monstrosity”.
Speaking to the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar by phone on Tuesday, he said it must be “abolished” from any Brexit deal.
The DUP is also in favour of the backstop being scrapped, but it is at odds with the majority of Northern Ireland’s political parties, as well as business and farming groups who maintain it would minimise disruption to trade and protect jobs.
Mr Varadkar has invited Mr Johnson to visit him in Dublin to discuss Brexit, as the Irish government and EU27 say the backstop must remain as part of the overall withdrawal deal.

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