Build bridges | 

Bertie Ahern says Boris Johnson’s exit ‘glorious opportunity’ to fix Irish-UK relations

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern

Paul HylandIndependent.ie

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said Boris Johnson’s resignation is a “glorious opportunity to try and amend what has happened” in recent years in Irish-UK politics.

Mr Ahern said the relationship between the British and Irish Governments has been “fraught” since 2019 and prospective British Prime Ministers must re-engage in practical Brexit negotiations. He said Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar came to an agreement in September of that year which led to the Northern Ireland Protocol and that fact has been “lost” in “most” UK media coverage and in the House of Commons.

He argued the Irish Government can play a role by explaining “pretty simply what the protocol is and what an international agreement is”.

"It is not rocket science and I think now people on the British side seems to think that this is something that was done in isolation, and it wasn’t really part of the discussions,” he told RTÉ Radio One’s News At One.

“It is for us to play the second half of this match, with the view of being able to win... This is our opportunity and if we can’t make it work, that’s another day's work but we should go into it, not with the view that it could be worse and we get a more difficult person, we have to go into it with a sense of explaining why it’s important.”

Read more: Boris Johnson finally agrees to resign as UK Conservative Party leader

Mr Ahern said it is “equally” important to acknowledge that trade groups in Northern Ireland have expressed frustration at the “complexities” that the Protocol has created for their members. He said the summer period should be used to sit down with these groups to “work out” these outstanding issues, and to present the findings to EU officials.

“I honestly believe the DUP would be up for a reasonable agreement on this, providing it comes through the UK Government,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Ahern said there are some potential candidates for the role of UK leader who he believes the Irish Government "could do business with”.

Speaking on the same programme, Irish MEP and EU Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and the Capital Markets Union, Mairéad McGuinness, said despite recent developments, “nothing” has change from the EU Commission’s perspective and the “protocol has to be implemented”.

“But we want to implement it in a way that is flexible, that answers the challenges that businesses are facing in Northern Ireland with its implementation and that it works for Northern Ireland; for people and for business," she said.

"That’s still on our table, but what has been difficult for us to understand is this idea that unilateral action will solve those difficulties with the legislation that is halfway through the process in the House of Commons but obviously we will be looking to see what comes up the change at leadership level in the Conservative Party.”

Regarding the prospect of the UK Government proceeding with unilateral action in the form the Protocol Bill, MEP McGuinness said the European Commission has said “very openly” that it “won’t work”.

She added: “The basics and fundamentals of solving problems are solved around the table and we’re still at that table. The referendum happened in 2016 and we’re now in 2022. We have this unfinished business.

"Look to Northern Ireland and I hope that Northern Ireland will be front and centre of the election campaign in the Conservative Party to good effect. In other words, that there will be an understanding of the benefits that accrue to Northern Ireland by its access to the single market.”


Today's Headlines

More Irish News

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices