Michael Martin, the Irish Taoiseach, has warned Boris Johnson that unilaterally creating a Troubles “amnesty” to protect British veterans risks undermining the Good Friday Agreement, as the pair look set for crunch talks in London next week.
Mr Martin claimed on Friday that a statute of limitations ending prosecutions relating to Troubles crimes before the 1998 peace agreement lacked the “consensus-based approach” needed.
Ministers believe the plan, which will apply to all sides, including the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries, is the only legal way to prevent former British troops being dragged into court in old age.
However, speaking in Dublin, Mr Martin appeared to suggest that pushing ahead with the plans without widespread support would run contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, adding that “unilateralism doesn’t work”.
The Telegraph has been told that Mr Martin is expected to fly to London either on Monday or Tuesday for talks with the Prime Minister, during which the issue is expected to feature heavily in discussions along with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Government sources confirmed on Friday night that discussions over a meeting were under way, although they added that the details were yet to be finalised.
Mounting tensions between Belfast and London
It came as the Northern Ireland Assembly was recalled on Friday from the summer recess to meet next Tuesday to discuss the proposals, which are currently opposed by all five main parties, including the Democratic Unionist Party.
In a sign of mounting tension between Belfast and London, a meeting between Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and the party leaders ended inconclusively.
Ratcheting up the pressure further, Mr Martin told reporters that the UK’s proposals needed to be “dealt with in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and all the parties to the Good Friday Agreement”.
He added: “Our view very strongly is that unilateralism doesn’t work in terms of the implementation.
“There has to be engagement and there has to be consensus building. We agreed a process to deal with this and it’s through that process that very sensitive issues such as this should be resolved.
“What is at the foremost of our minds at all times must be the victims and their families.
“They feel betrayed and they feel let down, and we have to prioritise the families and victims of so many atrocities during that period of our history on this island, irrespective of one’s community.”
Mr Martin’s intervention followed hours after Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister and minister for defence, suggested the proposals would inevitably be challenged in court and alleged that they would breach the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Telegraph revealed earlier this week that Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has received legal advice warning that acting unilaterally could heighten the risk of a challenge being successfully brought at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
However, government sources are confident the proposals comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and intend to press ahead with the legislation regardless of Ireland’s stance.