Negotiated protocol solution can carry support of all communities, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris says

Chris Heaton-Harris, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

A negotiated solution to issues caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol can carry the support of all communities in the north, Chris Heaton-Harris has said.

The Northern Ireland Secretary also reiterated that he intends to call an election if powersharing institutions at Stormont are not restored by October 28.

The Stormont Executive collapsed earlier this year after DUP First Minister Paul Givan resigned in protest at the post-Brexit protocol, which created trade barriers on goods being shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland.

The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as part of the Withdrawal Agreement and sought to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit, but is deeply unpopular with unionists.

The Westminster Government has introduced controversial legislation which would effectively allow ministers to override many aspects of the trading arrangement.

However, UK and EU officials are also due to meet later this week as part of the latest attempt to bring about a negotiated solution to the protocol impasse.

Current legislation states that Mr Heaton-Harris must call an election on October 28 if the Stormont institutions are not restored by then.

He told the BBC: “I am going to push that button.

“If there is no election, the executive is stumbling around in this stupor that it is now.

“It is really important to have an executive functioning.

“I think history tells us elections do change things in Northern Ireland.

“I am not going to pre-judge any election, but the primary legislation says that and I will call the election.

“I am not going to backtrack, this will be done.

“I exactly mean what I say and I will be calling an election on October 28.”

Mr Heaton-Harris was speaking after a DUP minister warned that the political impasse over the protocol could lead to the “funeral of the Good Friday Agreement”.

Edwin Poots told RTÉ that his party would not return to Stormont until issues were resolved.

He said: “There will not be an assembly and there will not be institutions of the Good Friday Agreement whilst we have the protocol – the two things are incompatible.”

Mr Heaton-Harris responded: “I want to be in that position where we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10.

“I am talking to the unionist community as much as I am talking to anyone else.

“I fully intend to keep everybody appraised of where we are at all the way through this process.

“We are going to do our best to negotiate a solution.

“You have seen what we want to achieve in the legislation in the House. If negotiations break down, we have got the legislation going through.”

Mr Heaton-Harris insisted he believed a negotiated solution between the UK Government and the EU was possible.

He said: “I genuinely think if we get to a negotiated solution where I think the landing zone is, if that comes about, it will work for all communities in Northern Ireland.

“I am convinced it will have the support of the DUP.

“If we get the negotiated solution that we are after, it will carry the support of all communities.”