Northern Ireland news

Secretary of State confident all parties will help facilitate Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire.

BRANDON Lewis has said he is confident that all members of the Stormont Executive will help facilitate any changes needed to implement the Northern Ireland protocol.

The Secretary of State was speaking as MPs yesterday overwhelmingly approved the UK's post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

A bill bringing the deal into law passed by 521 to 73 votes after Parliament was recalled. It will now go to the House of Lords, which is also expected to back it, before receiving Royal Assent.

Mr Lewis said he been " talking consistently" to Stormont parties about various issues around the protocol.

The DUP, Alliance and SDLP MPs, all voted against the deal. Sinn Féin do not take their seats at Westminster.

The Secretary of State said despite this he was confident that they would work on helping transition run smoothly.

"There are different things going on, obviously some of the parties want to remain in the European Union and are against the deal ... I think that's a bit short sighted as we left the European Union back with the withdrawal agreement in January, we've been in a transition period.

"So people either vote for a free trade agreement, which has been outlined, an historic consensus, the biggest one we've signed and the first one the EU have signed with free tariffs and free quotas, or they voted for no deal, that's the reality.

"The Northern Ireland parties are different and have different issues, obviously some of the people in parliament who voted against it are actually very much in favour of leaving the European Union.

"Ultimately this is a deal that works for Northern Ireland, essentially gives Northern Ireland a unique global opportunity because Northern Ireland businesses will have a position from which to trade which no-one in the world has got."

In September it was reported that DUP minister Edwin Poots halted work on planning for the Irish Sea border checks.

The Executive previously agreed to give Mr Poots authority to take the lead on work necessary to prepare for post-Brexit checks at ports at airports, as part of the protocol arrangements.

However, Mr Lewis said having had meetings with all the political parties over the last six months he was satisfied that they would do all that was necessary to ensure the north was prepared for the new agreed arrangements.

"To be fair to the executive, at all stages it has been a very good working relationship across departments with different UK government departments.

"That is not something that concerns me, I know the Northern Ireland Executive will want to make sure it delivers on its legal requirements.

"Not least of all because ultimately how the protocol works will be for the people of Northern Ireland through the consent mechanism, I think there is always that ability for Northern Ireland to take a view about this."

Mr Lewis also rejected the suggestion that Brexit could hasten the end of the union and strengthen the case for a border poll.

"I fundamentally disagree with that, I think actually quite the opposite," he said.

"If you look at what Northern Ireland has benefited from in terms of the last year as we have gone through Covid, I think its position in the UK has been hugely important and it's been an important part of the UK more generally.

"And as we leave the transition period, Northern Ireland is going to have this phenomenal benefit of being not just part of the UK customs territory and single market, but also that ability to trade freely with the EU.

"It's going to have a unique position that if it wasn't part of the United Kingdom, it wouldn't have.", he added.

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