Belfast Telegraph

Johnson issues rallying call for Union ahead of first trip to Northern Ireland

PM Boris Johnson
PM Boris Johnson
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
NI Secretary Julian Smith
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

Boris Johnson has called for a renewal of "the ties that bind our United Kingdom" as he prepares to make his first trip to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister.

His visit later this week is part of a whistle-stop tour of the regions.

Today he will go to Scotland, where he will announce a £300m funding pot for communities around the UK.

The visit to Northern Ireland will see Mr Johnson hold discussions with the various parties over the ongoing talks to restore devolution.

The PM is also due to head to Wales to meet members of the farming community.

Today Mr Johnson, who replaced Theresa May as PM last Wednesday, will detail the expansion of Growth Deals across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, backed by £300m of new funding.

The Conservative leader said he wants to ensure that no corner of the UK is left behind.

Ahead of the visit Mr Johnson said: "Our Union is the most successful political and economic union in history. We are a global brand and together we are safer, stronger and more prosperous.

"So as we prepare for our bright future after Brexit, it's vital we renew the ties that bind our United Kingdom.

"I'm proud to be in Scotland today to make clear that I am a passionate believer in our great Union, and I look forward to visiting Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that every decision I make as Prime Minister promotes and strengthens our Union."

The presence of the new occupant in Downing Street and the possibility of a no-deal Brexit have brought fresh speculation about the future of the Union.

On Friday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar used a speech in Donegal to warn that exiting the EU without a deal would mean that people in Northern Ireland will "come to question the Union".

He said a hard Brexit would raise "very serious questions about the future of Northern Ireland".

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is reviewing the timetable for a possible second vote on Scottish independence, and Mr Johnson has been branded the "last Prime Minister of the UK" by the SNP.

Both Ms Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, have told the PM it would be "unconscionable" for the UK to leave the EU without a deal.

Mr Johnson told the first meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday that he would be taking the title of Minister for the Union alongside that of Prime Minister - a move described by a spokesman as a statement of his commitment to strengthening the Union.

The latest Growth Deals plan for Northern Ireland will see funding go towards deals in Causeway Coast and Glens, and the mid and south-west area.

Money will also be directed to Falkirk and the Islands and Argyll and Bute in Scotland, and Mid-Wales.

The PM will confirm that deals already in negotiation, including Londonderry, will be completed.

It comes after Mr Johnson announced a £3.6bn towns fund over the weekend, supporting an initial 100 towns in England.

On the support for Growth Deals, Mr Johnson added: "As I said when I stood on the steps of Downing Street last week, it is time that we unleashed the productive power not just of London and the South East but of every corner of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"Important projects like Government's Growth Deals - today backed with £300m of new funding - will open up opportunities across our Union so people in every corner of the United Kingdom can realise their potential."

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said: "The Prime Minister's announcement of £300m Growth Deals to level up the support we give to our towns and cities is great news for Northern Ireland.

"I am looking forward to working with our partners in Northern Ireland - in particular, I hope very soon, a restored Executive - on how we make the most of this, building on the success we have had agreeing a City Deal for Belfast and the progress we have made on a deal for Derry-Londonderry."

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: "It's really great news that the Prime Minister is committed to ensuring that every part of Scotland benefits from United Kingdom Government Growth Deals.

"This investment will enable us to build on the success of our existing Growth Deals, which are helping to create jobs and boost local economies right across Scotland."

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said: "Wales is the only nation of the UK where Growth Deals have already been announced to cover all of our communities and the Prime Minister and I are committed to building on the successes of our existing collaborative achievements in both south and north Wales."

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