Boris Johnson to Meet Irish Prime Minister During Visit to Belfast

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet his Irish counterpart Micheal Martin for the first time on Thursday, during a visit designed to strengthen ties between London and Northern Ireland.

Although Britain is still negotiating its post-Brexit relationship with the European Union, Johnson’s agreement last year to accept a regulatory border in the Irish Sea — thereby ensuring the Irish border with Northern Ireland remains open — has taken much of the heat out of the issue, and Martin is unlikely to be as confrontational as his predecessor Leo Varadkar.

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But that concession, confirmed last week when Johnson’s government set out plans to help businesses deal with the new regulatory burdens, is likely to make his talks with Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster harder.

Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party helped put the prime minister in office by refusing to support his predecessor Theresa May’s Brexit deal, only to find that Johnson’s own deal crossed one of their key red lines — by treating trade with Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the U.K.

To compensate, Johnson will emphasize how much support his government has given Northern Ireland during the coronavirus crisis.

“As the country begins to get back on its feet in the wake of coronavirus, we cannot simply strive to rebuild, but we must commit to building back stronger than ever,” Johnson said in an emailed statement. “Together, we will make sure Northern Ireland is ready to take full advantage of the many opportunities that lie ahead and that no part of Northern Ireland is left behind.”

Johnson will also meet Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill.

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