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Sturgeon and O’Neill bond over protocol challenge

Michelle O’Neill and Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House

Nicola Sturgeon and Sinn Fein’s vice president discussed the impact of Brexit and likely changes to the Northern Ireland protocol during a meeting in Edinburgh yesterday.

The First Minister said the hour-long meeting at Bute House with Michelle O’Neill had highlighted “shared challenges”, following the threat of unilateral action by the Westminster government to scrap parts of the agreement.

Ms Sturgeon warned that it could prompt a trade war between the UK and the EU.

She said the Brexit process has “brought to the fore some very fundamental questions” over the system of governance in the UK.

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“You hear these questions in Scotland, you hear them in Northern Ireland. Increasingly, you’re hearing these questions being asked in Wales as well.

“I don’t think these questions are going to go away.”

The First Minister has now written to the other main political parties in Northern Ireland, including the DUP, to offer similar meetings.

Ms O’Neill, who requested the meeting with Ms Sturgeon, became the leader of the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly following the election earlier this month, but the DUP has blocked her from becoming First Minister amid the row over the protocol.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Sturgeon said: “Today’s meeting was an excellent opportunity to discuss some of the shared challenges Scotland and Northern Ireland face and I thank Michelle for reaching out and enabling us to discuss these extremely important issues in person.

“It was a particularly timely conversation which provided an update on the ongoing developments around establishing the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive following elections earlier this month.

“We also discussed the Northern Ireland protocol – most notably the extremely concerning announcement by the UK Government that they intend to legislate to enable unilateral action to dis-apply parts of the protocol – and the incredibly damaging effects this would have in communities right across the UK.

“Today’s meeting was a further example of the close relationship between Scotland and Northern Ireland. In that spirit, I have written today to the leaders of the DUP and Alliance parties with an offer to meet to discuss these important matters.”

The First Minister noted the comments on the protocol by Nancy Pelosi, the US speaker of the House of Representatives, that the US Congress will not support a free trade agreement with the UK if the British government persists with “deeply concerning” plans to “unilaterally discard” the protocol. Ms Sturgeon said similar sentiments had been expressed when the pair met in Washington earlier this week.

Commenting on the Bute House meeting, Ms O’Neill added: “The historic bonds between Scotland and the island of Ireland go back centuries. We enjoy a long and enduring affinity as neighbours and friends. Moving forward we will strengthen the bonds that tie us.”

Irish prime minister Micheál Martin met the main parties in Northern Ireland to discuss the protocol and the political crisis, while UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney also met on Friday.

Ms Truss said earlier this week that the government wanted to end the “unnecessary bureaucracy” which had been added to the movement of some goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

She said it would help resolve “the grave situation in Northern Ireland”, but would not scrap the protocol.

The government has proposed a bill which would include the removal of regulatory barriers to goods made to UK standards being sold in Northern Ireland and introduce a new dual regulatory regime, which would allow businesses to choose between meeting UK or EU standards.

Scottish Conservatives express alarm at the meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Ms O’Neill, even though Boris Johnson held talks with Sinn Fein following the party’s success on 5 May.

Sturgeon positive for Covid-19

Ms Sturgeon last night revealed that she had tested positive for Covid-19. She tweeted that she will work from home over the next few days and told followers she would “hopefully” be back out and about later next week.

Her tweet followed the meeting with Ms O’Neill who later tested negative.

Ms Sturgeon travelled to the US earlier in the week where she met the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and addressed the Brookings Institute in Washington DC.

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