THE next prime minister must face up to the reality that the Northern Ireland Protocol is here to stay, Michelle O’Neill has said.

The Sinn Fein vice-president said she has warned newly appointed Secretary of State for the region Shailesh Vara that the Government must stop “placating the DUP” and start being “even-handed” with Stormont’s political parties.

The republican party has accused the Government of doing the DUP’s bidding by introducing domestic legislation at Westminster to empower ministers to unilaterally scrap parts of the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The DUP is currently blocking the restoration of a Stormont executive in Belfast as part of its campaign against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

O’Neill is line to become Stormont first minister when or if the current powersharing impasse is resolved The party claims the trade arrangements have undermined the basis of powersharing by creating barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Vara has replaced Brandon Lewis as Secretary of State after he quit in the turbulent days ahead of Boris Johnson’s decision to stand down as prime minister.

O’Neill, who attended an Eid celebration in Belfast yesterday, said Northern Ireland was the “collateral damage” in the “bedlam and chaos” at Westminster.

“I have spoken with the new Secretary of State and I think even his appointment shows the interest that the British Government have in the people here – he’s the seventh Secretary of State in the last decade,” she said.

“They come, they go, they are not even-handed in their approach.

“So when I spoke with the new Secretary of State, for however long he’s in post, I made it clear to him that I expect him to try to make Stormont work, to stop placating the DUP, that the people here voted to make politics work and their job as a co-guarantor of the (Good Friday) agreement is actually to be even-handed and try to bring that about.”

O’Neill added: “The protocol is here to stay, so they need to stop the high wire act and playing to the gallery.

“We’re caught up in this mess in what’s happening within the Tory party and that’s not good enough for the people here who we represent.

“So, the protocol is here to stay, it’s a necessary mitigation to the hardest Brexit, which the DUP and the Tories delivered.

“So, they now need to find ways to make it work.

“What we want is political certainty, political stability, that’s certainly what the business community want and that’s what the public voted for in the recent election.”

O’Neill also called for Northern Ireland to be defined by its rainbow of cultures, not divisions between orange and green.

She hailed the Islamic community for the “generous and compassionate” contribution they have made to life in Northern Ireland for decades.

“I’m a champion of inclusion and I am here to help make this place which we all belong together a home richer in its diversity,” she said.

O’Neill condemned hate crimes that have targeted Muslims in recent years.

“My colleagues have been very vocal in calling out those responsible for the attacks on the Belfast Muslim community and those outrageous acts of criminality,” she said.

“So let me say very clearly here to you all today, we will always stand beside you.

“In our shared humanity, we live in each other’s shadow, and I want you all to know that you are valued.

“I’m working to build a society, not of orange and green, but of a whole rainbow of cultures, multiculturalism, which reflects who we are and where we stand today.”