Cross-party attempt by MPs to change Brexit legislation fails

South Belfast SDLP MP Claire Hanna
Connla Young

A cross-party attempt by MPs from the north to change the British government's Brexit legislation has failed.

The SDLP, Alliance Party and DUP had wanted to ensure a legal guarantee that local businesses would have “unfettered access” to British markets.

The move, which had the backing of the business community, was defeated by 337 to 262 votes yesterday afternoon.

Brexit under-secretary Robin Walker said that government assurances over market access were sufficient and no extra legal guarantees were required.

However, he admitted there will be some "reporting requirements" on goods crossing the Irish Sea.

It was suggested efforts will be made to "reduce them" through a joint committee.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna claimed assurances from the government over "unfettered access" cannot be trusted.

The DUP's Sammy Wilson also said he was disappointed by the outcome.

“It is disappointing that the government opposed a united Northern Ireland effort to ensure the government meets its promises on unfettered access to the UK market for Northern Ireland," he said.

"This was a positive amendment which sought nothing more than to ensure the government honoured its promises and that the Conservative Party's manifesto commitment was delivered upon."

Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said the amendment was a “sign of a willingness from all parties to work together to protect NI business and consumers and is to be welcomed”.

“The amendment to the Bill may have failed to be passed by a small margin but a stark warning has been raised that this current protocol will have damaging effects for our households and economy,” he said.

“The narrative that Northern Ireland is sorted has been broken.”

He said “we want to hold Minister Walker at his word when he said from the dispatch box ‘This deal is a good deal for both businesses and individuals in Northern Ireland'.

“Our challenge to him is prove it. Tell us how he will do away with the complexity and costs for NI businesses and households that will come because of the provisions in the withdrawal agreement.

“Show us where the mitigations, derogations and compensation is outlined so that we can have certainty.”

Meanwhile, leading British businessman Alan Sugar has said he believes the Republic will have a “good advantage" over the UK after Brexit.

The former Labour peer said that Brexit wasn't all doom and gloom" for Ireland.

Mr Sugar, who was speaking to RTÉ after addressing the Pendulum Summit in Dublin, said he would consider moving his business to Ireland to avail of "free circulation of goods and employment to the rest of Europe" if he found himself at a disadvantage in Britain because of Brexit.

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