Rishi Sunak is visiting Northern Ireland to celebrate the restoration of power-sharing at Stormont, where he will meet the country’s first nationalist first minister.
Over the weekend, an executive was finally re-established after almost two years without one in the region.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which had been holding up the process, allowed a first minister to be selected after a fresh agreement on post-Brexit bureaucracy was announced by the UK government.
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Mr Sunak will meet with the new first minister, Sinn Fein‘s Michelle O’Neill, as well as the deputy first minister, the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly, at Stormont today.
The pair have equal responsibilities and powers, but Sinn Fein has the first minister role due to it being the single largest party in the assembly.
The Republic of Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, is also expected to be at Stormont.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to Air Ambulance Northern Ireland in Lisburn on Sunday evening, the prime minister hailed the “significant progress” made “towards a brighter future for people here” following the restoration of power-sharing.
He also faced questions about Ms O’Neill’s comments that she expects a vote on Irish unity to take place in the next decade.
He replied: “Obviously, everyone is committed to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
“But I think everyone also agrees that now is the time to focus on delivering on the day-to-day issues that matter to people, to families, to businesses in Northern Ireland.”
It is Mr Sunak’s seventh time in the region since he became prime minister.
There had been hopes that the Windsor Framework agreed with the EU last year would break the impasse in Belfast.
But it has taken almost a whole year for unionists to get the assurances they need to let an administration form.
Under the Good Friday Agreement, the DUP had the power to stop an executive being formed.
With the roadblocks now removed, Ms O’Neill has now become the first nationalist first minister of Northern Ireland since 1998 when the current system was introduced.
The DUP had refused to return to power-sharing over the trade border in the Irish Sea, which put checks on goods travelling to and from Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK.
The establishment of a “green lane” for goods which do not require mandatory checks was announced last year in the Windsor Framework, but it required expansion last week in order to meet the DUP’s demands.
This was done in agreement with the EU.
And the UK government also announced that EU law will no longer apply automatically to Northern Ireland.
The UK government has pledged £3.3bn to the new executive to help with the finances, as well as £600m for public sector pay.
Ministerial roles are shared between parties based on how many seats they won in the election.
The new executive is set to meet for the first time on Monday.
Speaking to Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, Ms O’Neill said she expected there to be a referendum on Irish unification within the next decade.
She said: “I believe we are in a decade of opportunity and there are so many things that are changing.
“All the old norms, the nature of this estate, the fact that a nationalist/republican was never supposed to be first minister.
“This all speaks to that change.”
The UK government has said it sees “no realistic prospect of a border poll”.
‘I despise the PM’: George Galloway hits back at ‘little’ Rishi Sunak after Rochdale win called ‘alarming’
George Galloway told Sky News he “despises” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak when asked about the prime minister’s speech condemning extremism.
The Workers Party of Britain leader won the Rochdale by-election with 12,335 votes – more than 5,000 votes over second placed independent David Tully – and focused much of his campaign on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.
But in Mr Sunak’s speech outside Downing Street, he said Mr Galloway returning to parliament is “beyond alarming”, saying the new MP “dismisses the horror of what happened on 7 October” and “glorifies Hezbollah”.
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When asked by Sky News’ Sam Coates if he respected Mr Sunak, the Rochdale MP fired back: “I despise the prime minister.
“And guess what? Millions and millions and millions of people in this country despise the prime minister.
“I do not respect the prime minister at all.”
‘Little’ Rishi Sunak
Speaking in his campaign office, Mr Galloway also dismissed the prime minister’s concerns, instead talking up his win on Thursday night.
“I’ve got the democratic mandate here, not Rishi Sunak,” he said, “so don’t put to me statements made by Rishi Sunak as if I’m meant to be impressed by them.
“He [doesn’t] impress me much.”
He also colourfully described the prime minister as the “little” Tory leader, and added: “The prime minister is a rather diminutive, diminished and degraded politician.
“He made a party political statement. I don’t care about Rishi Sunak’s attitude. What I care about is that the returning officer, a man of unimpeachable integrity I’m sure you’ll agree, declared it a free and fair election and me as the winner.
“And Rishi Sunak is one of the crushed two big parties in the state.”
‘Suck it up’
The prime minister was not alone in his concerns about the former Labour MP’s return to the House of Commons.
Sir Keir Starmer apologised to voters for the result in Rochdale, and said Mr Galloway “only won because Labour didn’t stand a candidate“.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews added that the by-election marked “a dark day” for the UK’s Jewish community.
Richard Tice also claimed that campaigners for Reform suffered “daily intimidation and slurs” in the Greater Manchester constituency.
But when asked by Mr Coates about the allegations of intimidation, Mr Galloway said: “You have to just suck it up. I won the election.”
Clapham: Moped rider opens fire with ‘shotgun’ while being chased by Met Police
A moped rider being chased by police has fired shots, wounding three people in south London.
Two of them suffered shotgun pellet injuries while a third was hurt by the moped, but none are believed to be in a life-threatening condition.
Officers were pursuing the vehicle, being ridden by two people, after it failed to stop in the Clapham area just before 5pm on Friday, the Metropolitan Police said.
A firearm, believed to be a shotgun, was fired from the moped near Clapham Common South Side.
The suspects then fled the scene and officers are trying to trace the moped. No arrests have been made.
The London Ambulance Service said its crews had taken two people to a major trauma centre in the capital, while the third was treated in hospital.
The Met said: “A crime scene is in place and urgent enquiries to trace the moped are ongoing. Firearms officers are searching the area.”
Several roads have been cordoned off.
A local barber, who gave his name as Kaka, said he was left “shocked” after hearing shooting close to his shop near Clapham Common.
He said: “I was in the shop just before 5pm and I heard a gunshot up the road. We were all shocked because it was so close, the police were everywhere afterwards.”
PM rails against ‘extremist forces trying to tear us apart’ in Downing Street address
Rishi Sunak has railed against “extremist forces trying to tear us apart” during a Downing Street address to the nation.
The prime minister said there has been a “shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality” and added that “now our democracy itself is a target”.
He also described the Rochdale by-election result on Thursday night as “beyond alarming”, and claimed “our streets have been hijacked by small groups who are hostile to our values” as he urged the need to “beat this poison”.
His surprise speech came after the victory of maverick politician George Galloway in the Greater Manchester seat, following a campaign dominated by the highly-emotive issue of Gaza and dogged by accusations of abuse and intimidation.
In response, Mr Galloway told Sky News he “despised” the prime minister and did not care what he thought as he had won “a free and fair election”.
Community tensions in the UK have heightened against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas conflict, triggered by the militant attack on 7 October.
In the face of ongoing pro-Palestinian protests, MPs have spoken of their experiences of receiving death threats and their concerns for the safety of their families, prompting the government to announce an extra £31m to protect elected representatives.
It followed chaotic scenes in Westminster over the vote on a ceasefire in Gaza, when Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle broke with precedent in his handling of proceedings because he had concerns about the intimidation suffered by some parliamentarians, sparking a backlash.
But critics argue members of the ruling party have stoked divisions, highlighting former deputy Tory chairman Lee Anderson being stripped of the party whip after he accused London mayor Sadiq Khan of being controlled by Islamists, and former home secretary Suella Braverman referring to protests as “hate marches”.
Mr Sunak said: “In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.
“What started as protests on our streets have descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.
“Jewish children fearful to wear their school uniform lest it reveals their identity. Muslim women abused in the street for the actions of a terrorist group they have no connection with.
“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed. MPs do not feel safe in their homes. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns.
“And it’s beyond alarming that last night, the Rochdale by-election returned a candidate that dismisses the horror of what happened on 7 October, who glorifies Hezbollah and is endorsed by Nick Griffin, the racist former leader of the BNP.”
He added: “We are a country where we love our neighbours and we are building Britain together.
“But I fear that our great achievement in building the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy is being deliberately undermined.
“There are forces here at home trying to tear us apart.”
He went on: “Islamist extremists and far rights groups are spreading a poison, that poison is extremism.”
Mr Sunak announced a “new robust framework” would be introduced to “ensure we are dealing with the root cause of this problem”.
The prime minister said ministers would redouble their support for the anti-terrorism Prevent programme, demand universities stop extremist activity on campus and act to prevent people from entering the country whose “aim is to undermine its values”.
In an appeal to those taking part in pro-Palestinian protests, Mr Sunak said: “Don’t let the extremists hijack your marches. You have a chance in the coming weeks to show that you can protest decently, peacefully and with empathy for your fellow citizens.
“Let’s prove these extremists wrong and show that even when we disagree we will never be disunited from our common values of decency and respect.
“I love this country, my family and I owe it so much. The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division and beat this poison.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer backed Mr Sunak’s call.
In a statement, he said: “The prime minister is right to advocate unity and to condemn the unacceptable and intimidatory behaviour that we have seen recently.
“It is an important task of leadership to defend our values and the common bonds that hold us together.
“Citizens have a right to go about their business without intimidation and elected representatives should be able to do their jobs and cast their votes without fear or favour.
“This is something agreed across the parties and which we should all defend.”
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