Northern Ireland news

Former Brexit MEP Ben Habib says Dublin government using protocol to advance Irish unity

Ben Habib said 'people should grow up and put the border where it should be'

THE FORMER British MEP spearheading a legal challenge against the protocol believes the Dublin government is using it to advance Irish unity and that arguments against a customs border between the north and the Republic are "false".

Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib told The Irish News that "people should grow up and put the border where it should be".

He claimed the Republic's government had "worked in cahoots" with Brussels to exaggerate the implications of a land border and that Boris Johnson's government was complicit in a deal that "drives a coach and horses" through the Good Friday Agreement.

The English former politician and businessman, who now describes himself as "just a British citizen", has initiated a legal challenge to the protocol alongside former Labour MP Baroness Kate Hoey and TUV leader Jim Allister.

The challenge, counsel for which is being provided by former Stormont Attorney General John Larkin QC, is being supported by the DUP and Ulster Unionists.

Former First Minister Lord David Trimble is also backing the legal bid, which will be formally launched next week when the applicants seek leave for a Judicial Review at the High Court in Belfast.

They are challenging the protocol element of the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement on the basis that it breaches the Act of Union and the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Habib believes "Northern Ireland has been left behind" and that the Irish Sea regulatory border has disrupted trade between Britain and the region.

"What it said on the referendum paper and what the prime minister promised in his manifesto of 2019 was that the UK would leave the EU – there was no deal that we'd leave Northern Ireland behind," he said.

"It's a actually repugnant that we should leave part of the UK behind. It makes me feel sick to the core, which is why I've taken the action I've taken."

The former MEP rejects the suggestion that the protocol is a consequence of Brexit.

"This is a consequence of the EU working in cahoots with the Irish government to make a big issue of the border that already exists between Northern Ireland and Ireland," he said.

"The claim that you cannot put a customs border there is a false claim – a false claim that was revealed when the EU itself invoked Article 16 on January 29 to prevent life-saving vaccines getting to the UK."

He said the best solution for the EU protecting the integrity of its single market is a "customs border where the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland currently exists"

"There's already a border for two different currency zones, two different tax rates and different excise duty and VAT rates," he said.

Mr Habib said there was nothing in the Good Friday Agreement that prohibits a land customs border.

"It's not military installations of the kind used during the Troubles," he said.

"It need only be, if they use a smart border, a few CCTV cameras checking number plates to make sure the goods being carried on vehicles have previously filed declarations."

He pointed to a November 2017 report from the EU examining the potential for a so-called smart border.

"People need to grow up and put the border where it should be – stop playing political games," he said.

"There'll be no imposition on anyone in Northern Ireland or Ireland. They can continue to drive freely and walk freely across the border as they do now. Just because it's a customs border doesn't mean any of that changes."

Mr Habib said his major concern about the protocol was the oversight given to the EU.

"The real effect about which I'm worried is the ECJ (European Court of Justice) supremacy over Northern Ireland, the EU's say over Northern Ireland – the fact that it's the EU will be governing to a very significant effect Northern Ireland," he said.

"It's no longer fully part of the United Kingdom and that wasn't the deal."

Asked if the protocol increased the possibility of a united Ireland, he said: "I think that's definitely what the Irish government is hoping for. That's definitely the direction of their travel."

The former Brexit Party representative praised the DUP for "fighting Theresa May over the backstop".

"They were instrumental in preventing the entire United Kingdom from being captured by the EU, let's not forget that," he said.

"If the DUP hadn't repeatedly voted against Mrs May's withdrawal agreement, the entire United Kingdom would be stuck in the EU's Customs Union – they did the UK a great favour."

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