Northern Ireland news


Plan to 'fix' protocol 'shows Tories can't be trusted'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture by Matt Dunham/PA Wire

NORTHERN Ireland Office minister Conor Burns yesterday claimed the protocol is causing "significant societal disruption" as he insisted the British government "reserves the right" to take unilateral remedial action on the post-Brexit trade arrangements.

His comments followed reports that the Tories are preparing legislation that would give them sweeping powers to tear up the protocol element of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Boris Johnson said his government was ready to take measures if necessary to "fix" the deal with the EU, claiming it "does not command the confidence of a large part" of the north's population.

"We think we can do it with some very simple and reasonable steps," he said during a visit to India.

"We have talked repeatedly to our friends and partners in the EU. We will continue to talk to them but as I have said many times now we don't rule out taking steps now if those are necessary."

In an interview with LBC, Mr Burns refused to be drawn on a report by the Financial Times that the British government is planning legislation that would allow it to scrap parts of the protocol.

NIO minister Conor Burns. Picture by Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA Wire

The move comes less than a fortnight ahead of the Stormont election on May 5.

"As far back as last July the prime minister said that we believed that the threshold for triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol had been reached," the NIO minister said.

"There is significant societal disruption in Northern Ireland due to the way that the protocol is being implemented – I hope Brussels are listening to this conversation and other conversations."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the reports showed that the Johnson administration "simply cannot be trusted".

“It will come as no shock to many in Northern Ireland that Boris Johnson is desperate to distract from the political turmoil he is experiencing and that he’s willing to throw us under the bus to do it," he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. Picture by Hugh Russell

"This is about shoring up his position with the hardline ERG (European Research Group) and shoring up the DUP’s position ahead of an election. Come May 5, Johnson will dump Jeffrey and the DUP again – they never learn."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said any unilateral action by the Tories would "undermine efforts to find long-term solutions to the challenges posed by Brexit". He said it would be "counter-productive and damaging".

"The protocol exists to reflect the choices made by the UK government on Brexit," he said.

"There are of course challenges arising from Brexit and the implementation of the protocol. Businesses need pragmatic and sustainable solutions, and crucially they must be legal."

Labour's Peter Kyle condemned the reported plan, and questioned how Mr Johnson can negotiate a trade deal with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the same time as dismantling another.

"This is absolutely astonishing and incredibly damaging," the shadow Northern Ireland secretary told Sky News.

"Boris Johnson negotiated, his team drafted the Northern Ireland Protocol. They presented it to the EU, they negotiated it into the deal."

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