LONDON (AFP) - The leader of Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein on Sunday (June 12) accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of sacrificing Northern Ireland to shore up his own enfeebled position.
Mr Johnson's government will on Monday introduce legislation to rewrite its post-Brexit commitments on Northern Ireland, but denied that it was breaking its treaty obligations to the European Union.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis insisted the Bill was "lawful" and necessary to fix problems in the EU protocol, so as to restore a power-sharing government in the troubled territory.
But Sinn Fein's all-Ireland president Mary Lou McDonald said the Bill would unilaterally break Britain's EU withdrawal treaty, and pointed to Mr Johnson's narrow escape in a Conservative leadership vote last Monday.
"It is disgraceful to use the north of Ireland, to use Ireland, as a bargaining chip," she told Sky News, accusing the Conservatives of "games and gamesmanship".
The government's proposals were rather "designed to boost the ego, the leadership ambitions of either Boris Johnson or one of his would-be successors", Ms McDonald added.
"It's dishonourable stuff, by any measure extraordinary stuff."
Mr Lewis, also speaking in a Sky interview, said the Northern Ireland Protocol was disrupting trade and lacked support from the territory's pro-UK unionist parties.
"So it's right that we repair that," he said, adding that the need to protect a 1998 peace agreement in Northern Ireland had "primacy" over the protocol.
Ms McDonald countered that public opinion and most lawmakers in Northern Ireland backed the protocol.
"Brandon Lewis is talking through his hat, and not for the first time," she said, accusing the government of "undermining, attacking and damaging the (1998) Good Friday Agreement".
In a historic first, Sinn Fein emerged as the biggest party in Northern Ireland elections last month.
But the Democratic Unionist Party argues that the protocol is jeopardising Northern Ireland's status in the UK and is boycotting the local government, leaving it in limbo under the 1998 deal.
The protocol requires checks on goods arriving from England, Scotland and Wales, to prevent them entering the EU's single market via the Republic of Ireland.
The UK Bill is expected to scrap most of the checks, creating a "green channel" for British traders to send goods to Northern Ireland without making any customs declaration to the EU.
Since the confidence vote, Mr Johnson has reportedly been under pressure from pro-Brexit Tory hardliners to toughen the Bill and remove oversight of the protocol by the European Court of Justice.
Mr Lewis declined to be drawn on the details before the Bill is introduced in Parliament on Monday, but said the EU was being "disingenuous" in its claims that it had shown flexibility.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, however, said last Thursday that opposition to Britain's tactics had "hardened" across EU capitals, querying whether it was "serious about a negotiated solution".