Northern Ireland news

Former minister Chris Patten warns PM must tell truth over protocol

Lord Patten made his comments during last night's inaugural Seamus Mallon Lecture, delivered through the John and Pat Hume Foundation. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seamus McKinney

A FORMER Conservative government minister has urged Boris Johnson to “tell the truth” that the Northern Ireland Protocol must be implemented.

Chris Patten said the prime minister should stop blaming others for Brexit problems.

Criticising the Conservative government handling of the post-Brexit landscape, the Tory grandee also warned that Mr Johnson must be blunt in saying that the protocol is legally binding.

Lord Patten made his comments in last night's inaugural Seamus Mallon Lecture, delivered through the John and Pat Hume Foundation.

The last governor of Hong Kong before it was handed over to China, Lord Patten was a cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, served as an EU commissioner and is a former chairman of the BBC Trust.

His report, as chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Commission (known as the Patten Commission), led to the disbandment of the RUC and creation of the PSNI.

In last night's lecture in memory of the late Mr Mallon, Lord Patten issued a damning assessment of the government's handling of post-Brexit Northern Ireland.

"The problem at heart is not the sausages you get from Sainsbury's but the porkies that we all get, home and abroad, from Downing Street," he said.

Lord Patten said that Brexit meant there had to be a “credible border” between Britain and Northern Ireland if the Good Friday Agreement was to be upheld.

"This is what the British government signed up to. It has standing in international law," he said.

He said Mr Johnson's assurances to unionists that there would be no Irish Sea border and the government's blaming of EU officials for problems was wrong. He suggested that the narrative was that if the marching season resulted in violence, it was all Brussels' fault. European governments were now being asked to make adjustments to help Britain keep its word to unionists and loyalists.

"But our own government has much to do itself. It must tell the truth. It must implement the legally binding protocol. It should explain, which happens to be true, that both communities in Northern Ireland are equally challenged by the way Brexit works. They are given significant advantage through the protocol, as many have pointed out, to get the best of both worlds."

Lord Patten said it was not for "our Brexit government" to wish away what it had negotiated and to blame any consequences on others as it faced into the July marching season.

"We should be blunt about this. It matters to our international reputation," he said.

The fall-out from the “shambles” of the handling of the protocol should not be allowed to turn into “an avalanche of political trouble". He said a lack of trust in the government on both sides of the community would do nothing to halt the momentum towards a border poll.

In a warm tribute to former SDLP deputy leader, Mr Mallon, Lord Patten said he demonstrated more bravery each day than most people did in a lifetime.

“He was a man whose identity encompassed his patriotism but was not constrained, not bound within the most limited and narrow definition of that often-abused word,” he said.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news