Andrew Marr: Solving Northern Ireland protocol is the 'biggest political challenge Sunak faces'

2 February 2023, 18:14

Andrew Marr: Solving political dilemma of the Northern Ireland protocol requires 'sinuous' skills

Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Attempting to appease both unionists and republicans in Northern Ireland with a solution to the Brexit protocol is the single biggest challenge facing Rishi Sunak, Andrew Marr has said.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Speaking on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr on Thursday, the presenter said the government are "damned if they do and damned if they don't" come up with a solution to the so-called Northern Ireland protocol.

The protocol centres around Northern Ireland's arrangement within the Brexit agreement.

It is a trading arrangement that allows goods to transported across the Irish land border without checks. Prior to Brexit, there were no issues transporting goods across the land border as both Ireland and Northern Ireland followed EU rules.

Following Brexit, special arrangements were needed, due to the land border between the two countries, with the Republic of Ireland remaining an EU member.

Speaking this evening on LBC, Andrew said: "The Omagh bombing in 1998 was the single deadliest incident in the Troubles – 29 innocent people were murdered and around 220 injured.

"In the Commons today the government announced that there would be an independent enquiry into the Massacre  carried out by the real IRA, aspects of which remain murky.

Watch Tonight with Andrew Marr exclusively on Global Player every Monday to Thursday from 6pm to 7pm.

"It's really useful that we remember Omagh right now because the future of peace in Northern Ireland is again on the table.

"Let's remember that across the so-called troubles, basically a bitter inter-communal war, 3500 of our fellow citizens died and more than 47000 people were injured."

The Northern Ireland protocol has stirred tensions in the country
The Northern Ireland protocol has stirred tensions in the country. Picture: Getty

Read More: EU starts Brexit legal action against UK over 'illegal' changes to NI Protocol

Andrew continued: "We don't talk about that so much these days thanks to the so-called Good Friday Agreement reached under Tony Blair 25 years ago.

"But now, three years after Brexit, the political status of Northern Ireland, still part of the European single market, is again causing intense political argument.

"The so-called protocol, the Northern Ireland part of the Brexit deal, infuriates many unionists and so the government has a bill going through Parliament now which would allow ministers to rip it up.

"Meanwhile the Prime Minister has been negotiating with Europe about a smoother system of trade flowing through Northern Ireland.

"If the government doesn't get its protocol bill through, the Unionists, the DUP, will carry on boycotting the power sharing government of Northern Ireland. And that's a menacing thought.

"Violence isn’t very far away. As one Tory MP told me this week, we’re still talking to the men in suits but behind the men in suits are the men in tattoos.

29 people were killed in 1998 in Omagh, Northern Ireland, following a car bomb attack
29 people were killed in 1998 in Omagh, Northern Ireland, following a car bomb attack. Picture: Getty

You can also listen to the podcast Tonight with Andrew Marr only on Global Player.

"However, as Conor Burns told us on this show last night, if the Government does press ahead with the bill and gets it through, then Sinn Fein, the Republican movement, won't take part in the power-sharing system.

"Get the bill and fail. Don't get the bill and fail. Sunak’s government is literally damned if they do and damned if they don't.

"Either way, watching him from the Tory backbenches are his most deeply sceptical critics.

"This is a political dilemma which is both really serious, because it affects peace in Northern Ireland in our time; and which will require extraordinary, sinuous skills to resolve.

"The signs are that in his talks with Brussels, Rishi Sunak may be close to a breakthrough and he’s quietly preparing to visit Washington soon to sell it to President Biden.

"This, not the resignation of Cabinet ministers, is the biggest single political challenge facing this still-new Prime Minister."