Playing with fire Boris sent Brexit ultimatum as UK risks being carved up within weeks

Boris Johnson's fate 'lies in his own hands' says Francois

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The failure of London and Brussels negotiators to come to an agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol has prompted claims the upcoming Assembly election has focused on the post-Brexit settlement. Resent over stalled talks could see the devolved Northern Irish Government fall into the hands of Sinn Fein, which hopes to carve up the UK, a leading Brexiteer has claimed.

Mark Francois, a member of the eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG), stressed that Britain has left the EU but “there is still more work to do” to ensure the benefits of Brexit are fully realised.

Responding to questions from readers, the Tory MP for Rayleigh and Wickford warned failing to get a grip on negotiations in Northern Ireland could have dire consequences for the state of the union.

Mr Francois told Whitehall must not lower to Brussels’s level in ongoing talks, which have so far been described as amicable but inconclusive.

He said: “The EU is playing with fire with these negotiations.

“Our own ministers [also] need to seriously raise their game and highlight the risks involved.”

He added: “The ERG has been warning Number 10 about the lack of progress on the Protocol for over a year.

“If nothing is done very soon, we will probably see Sinn Fein taking control of the devolved Government of Northern Ireland within six weeks.”

Mr Francois accepted progress had been “stymied” by Covid. The Russian invasion of Ukraine appears also to have put talks on hold.

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But he added the taking of power by Sinn Fein would – if realised – occur “on Boris’s watch”, highlighting the Prime Minister could not escape all blame because of other world events.

This comes after Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill told Sky News nationalists “are closer than we ever have been [to a united Ireland]”.

She added if Brexit “has taught us anything”, it is that the UK Government does not prioritise the people of Northern Ireland.

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A spokesperson for the UK Government, quoted in the BBC, countered it was “absolutely committed to delivering for the people of Northern Ireland”.

Mr Francois said in order for this message to be believed by unionists in Northern Ireland, the Government needs to step up its action in post-Brexit talks.

One reader asked: “Mark, do you really believe that Truss or Johnson will ever trigger Article 16?”

The MP responded: “We should have triggered Article 16, as a statement of intent, months ago – but even if you do, it only ‘buys time’ for an eventual solution.

“However, if the EU continue to be intransigent over the Protocol there is now a very real risk that the Unionist community will overwhelmingly withdraw their support.”

He stressed the Good Friday Agreement could also “collapse” as a result of this.

Northern Ireland’s Assembly election will take place on May 5.

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