In an at times grouchy press conference, Boris Johnson tried to calm the row over the Northern Ireland protocol. The Prime Minister declined to comment on what Emmanuel Macron is supposed to have said about Northern Ireland’s position in the UK. He said that the whole issue of the protocol had taken up a ‘vestigial’ amount of time at the summit. (Interestingly, Mujtaba Rahman of Eurasia Group, who is particularly well connected in EU capitals, says that he has been told it took up two-thirds of the conversations in the margins of the summit).
Instead, Johnson wanted to emphasise the vaccine commitments that the summit had made and how these would help ‘demonstrate the benefits of democracy and freedom and human rights’ to the rest of the world. Given the reports coming from Northern Ireland this afternoon suggesting that Sinn Fein may collapse the power sharing institutions over the new DUP leader’s attitude to the Irish Language Act, it seems that the province is unlikely to drop down the news agenda this coming week. A collapse of the Stormont executive would only further complicate the situation.
On Covid, Johnson did not want to pre-empt his announcement tomorrow on what, if anything, will happen on 21 June. But the ‘alas’ is back and it seems guaranteed that there will be some kind of delay to full reopening.
Worryingly, Johnson wouldn’t answer what percentage of the population needed to be fully vaccinated for the government to be confident that a full reopening would be safe. This is a question that does need to be answered tomorrow when the delay is announced. If it is not, there is a real danger that the people and businesses will lose confidence about the prospect of a full and sustained reopening this year.
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