Politics

‘Won’t shy away from further steps’ Brandon Lewis issues EU threat over hated Brexit deal

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The Northern Ireland Secretary took to social media to share the UK Government’s plan to address constitutional and trading issues on the Emerald Isle. Mr Lewis, who was elected as the MP for Great Yarmouth in 2020, entered the Northern Ireland Office after serving as a Minister in the now-defunct Department for Exiting the European Union. Writing on Twitter after an appearance on ITV’s Peston programme, Mr Lewis said: “We will do whatever it takes to protect the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

“It is clear that the Protocol does not have the support of the unionist community and is not working for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

“We have to address the outstanding issues and we want to do that by agreement with the EU, but as we have always made clear, we will not shy away from taking further steps if necessary.”

However, Mr Lewis had signalled the UK Government was not planning to take steps to introduce legislation next week to waive elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

It had been reported Mr Lewis and his Conservative Cabinet colleagues were preparing to announce the measures in the Queen’s Speech.

But he told Robert Peston: “Our focus is on resolving the issues with the protocol, ideally we want to do that by agreement with the European Union.”

When pressed further, Lewis added: “What we’ve been clear about is at the moment, the protocol is causing problems in civic society, it’s causing problems with the Good Friday Agreement.

“Our duty to the people of Northern Ireland is to resolve those issues.

“Yes, we want to do that with the EU and that’s what Liz Truss has been focused on.”

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Mr Lewis’ comments came just hours after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss spoke to her Irish counterpart Simon Coveney about Ukraine and the Good Friday Agreement.

However, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson responded to Mr Lewis’ intervention on Twitter.

The Lagan Valley MP, who is seeking a return to Stormont after serving in Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly between 2003 and 2010, said: “Use your vote to send a clear message – the Protocol must go.

“The NI Protocol has created a border in the Irish Sea and represents an existential threat to the future of Northern Ireland’s place within the Union.

“The longer the Protocol remains, the more it harms the Union itself.

“The Government knows that the Protocol does not enjoy the support of Unionists and Brussels can be in no doubt that the Protocol has cast its long shadow over Northern Ireland’s political arrangements and harming our economy.”

Donaldson added: “Now is the moment to send a clear signal that the Irish Sea border must go and the Protocol must be replaced by arrangements that restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the UK Internal Market.”

Polling stations in Northern Ireland open at 7am later today and close at 10pm.

However, Donaldson suggested the DUP could collapse Ulster’s executive unless parties agree to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The decision has been slammed by the nationalist-supporting Sinn Fein, who are likely to hold the keys to power, as refusing to accept the democratic wishes of voters.

The Protocol, which was signed by the Prime Minister and Lord David Frost during his Brexit negotiations with the Brussels bloc in 2019, keeps Ulster inside the EU’s single market and has erected trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, £10.9billion out of Ulster’s £22.1billion exports and £13.2billion out of £20.3billion imports went to the rest of the UK in 2020.

It has even been estimated the border down the Irish Sea could have cost Ulster £850million a year.

However, Unionists have also voiced concern about the Northern Ireland Protocol over the impact it has in constitutionally separating the province from the rest of the UK.

More than 140,000 people signed a petition which called on the UK Government to trigger Article 16 to “remove any impediment or barrier to unfettered trade within the United Kingdom”.

But Mr Lewis also received more direct responses from Helena Morrissey, a Brexit-backing Baroness, who said: “This has been said far too often Brandon.

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“The EU want the status quo for obvious reasons. They have no urgency to change.

“The direction of travel is to pull NI away from the UK.

“So let’s stop all the words and opt for action, action, action!”

Ex-Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib added: “Yup you, the PM, Lord Frost and Mrs Truss have made that clear for two years now and done absolutely NOTHING.

“You will not get a satisfactory agreement with the EU.

“If you have not grasped that you grasp NOTHING.

“Your Government is wilfully presiding over the end of the UK.”

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