Boris Johnson visits Northern Ireland in bid to shore up the Union

(left to right) Deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill, prime minister Boris Johnson and first minis

(left to right) Deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill, prime minister Boris Johnson and first minister Arlene Foster at Hillsborough Castle during the PM's visit to Belfast; Brian Lawless/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Boris Johnson will visit politicians in Northern Ireland on Thursday in a bid to shore up the Union following a rise in support for its break-up.

The prime minister will press the importance of the United Kingdom in talks with the region's first minister Arlene Foster,of the DUP, and deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill, of Sinn Fein.

Johnson is expected to discuss ways to make the Union 'stronger and better than ever' in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and touch on next year's centenary of Northern Ireland's creation.

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On Wednesday, the prime minister said he could not 'overstate' how important close co-operation between central and devolved governments will be to keeping the Union together.

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'Together, we will make sure Northern Ireland is ready to take full advantage of the many opportunities that lie ahead and that no part of Northern Ireland is left behind,' he said.

He added: 'As we mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, it is important that we celebrate its people, culture and traditions, along with its vital contribution to the United Kingdom.'

Johnson is expected to meet the Republic of Ireland's new Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who took over from Leo Varadkar in June and where the progress of Brexit trade talks with the EU will be on the agenda.

The prime minister's trip comes as polling shows rising support for a second independence referendum in Scotland and a spike in support for SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon whose party is expected to win a landslide victory in next year's Holyrood elections.

A recent YouGov poll, carried out by The Times, found that Nicola Sturgeon is now 100 points ahead of Boris Johnson in Scottish voters' approval ratings.

The survey found that Sturgeon was on +50 points as her approval rating continues to soar following her handling of the coronavirus pandemic while Johnson's has dropped to -50 points.

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