Nationalists have been viewing the installation of a new British administration with alarm after two fanatical Brexiteers were appointed to Belfast.
On Tuesday, Liz Truss was formally appointed Prime Minister by Queen Elizabeth Windsor in an archaic ceremony known as “kissing hands”.
She then presented her new Cabinet. In doing so, she rescued her closest friends and allies from the ruins of the previous administration, but has not contradicted her billing as ‘Continuity Boris Johnson’.
In her first speech outside Downing Street, Truss failed to mention the north of Ireland or the long-running stalemate over Brexit, but her appointment of ‘Brextremists’ Chris Heaton-Harris and Steve Baker as Direct Rule Ministers has sent a message of intransigence.
Both strongly support moves to renege on the Brexit Protocol, which sets out how goods traded between the north of Ireland and Britain are dealt with. The DUP is continuing to block the return of the Six County administration until its demands for changes to the Brexit deal are satisfied.
Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he looked forward to working with Truss, but hopes in Ireland are low. Britain’s new PM has been told by Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill to stop her “reckless threats to break international law” and prioritise restoring the Stormont executive.
Ms O’Neill and other political leaders in the North have called for political efforts to alleviate financial hardship before winter as the cost-of-living crisis bites.
However, Truss is rumoured to be planning to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol via an “emergency brake” provision, known as Article 16, advancing a potential trade war between Britain and the EU.
September 15 is the deadline for London to respond to the EU’s legal actions. EU officials have already described the Brexit-wrecking legislation before the British parliament as “a loaded gun placed on the negotiating table.”
Ms O’Neill said she had written to the newly appointed British prime minister urging her to work to put the power-sharing institutions back in place to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
“Workers, families and small businesses are struggling with energy bills that are simply out of control and unaffordable. They need help now to tackle this cost-of-living emergency,” Ms O’Neill said.
The Sinn Féin northern leader said Downing Street needed to “stop facilitating the DUP’s destructive and self-serving boycott of government”.
“She should end her sabre-rattling and reckless threats to break international law and get back to the table for talks with the EU to find solutions and give certainty to our businesses,” Ms O’Neill said.
Aontú Leader and Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín said there is is no evidence that the new administration in London is taking the situation seriously.
He called on the British government to “get real” in terms of the negotiations with the EU, and scrap both the Protocol legislation and the Legacy legislation that allows killer British soldiers an amnesty to “get away with murder”.
“These are the baselines of justice and stability in the north,” he said.
The SDLP has hit out at what they described as the “takeover” of the Northern Ireland Office by hard Brexiteers. MP Claire Hanna said the appointment of two senior anti-EU figures is a “red flag” and a “destructive message” which would hinder negotiations.
“Liz Truss could have taken the opportunity to build bridges and make allies in the early days of her premiership. Instead she seems to be continuing down the diplomatically ignorant route of her predecessor.”
Speaking during a visit to California in the US, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said there must be no further delay to Britain engaging with the EU to find joint solutions on the Irish Protocol.
“After seven months of refusing to engage and solo runs in breach of international law it is time for the British government to engage constructively and in good faith,” she said.
Ms McDonald said Ireland is ready to open a new chapter as it approaches the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
“We need to see a recommitment to the Good Friday Agreement, real support for the restoration of the political institutions and an end to game playing around the Irish protocol and the unilateral actions of the British government. Voices in Ireland and the US could not be more unified in making it clear to Britain that this needs to happen.”