Brandon Lewis says Northern Ireland Protocol is ‘not working’ 

Brandon Lewis says Northern Ireland Protocol is ‘not working’ 
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Cabinet met on Tuesday to discuss the next steps on dealing with the Northern Ireland Protocol (Henry Nicholls/PA)

Introducing legislation suspending parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol was “never on the cards” for this week, according to a British cabinet minister.

Following Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Britain's foreign secretary Liz Truss is set to announce a domestic law that, if passed, would overwrite elements of the Brexit treaty with the European Union.

But while Ms Truss is planning in the Commons to announce her intention to bring forward the legislation in an attempt to restore power-sharing in Stormont, the Bill could be delayed until the summer.

What we have always said is that we will not take anything off the table

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said the British government did not intend to bring new legislation on the protocol forward this week due to debates taking place on the Queen’s Speech.

But he argued the protocol is “not working properly” and said ministers would “not take anything off the table” when it comes to solving the border issues.

He told Sky News: “Something like that this week was never on the cards.

“But what we have always said is that we will not take anything off the table.”

Britain wants to resolve the problems “by agreement with the EU”, Mr Lewis said.

But he warned “we reserve the right to do what we need to do” to address tensions caused by the protocol.

The protocol, which was negotiated by British prime minister Boris Johnson as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, is designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland after Britain left the EU in order to protect the 1998 negotiated peace accord following decades of sectarian violence.

The terms effectively keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods and create a hard border down the Irish Sea.

But since signing the deal, ministers have complained that Brussels has insisted on overly stringent checks on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland which is causing trade disruption and community tensions.

Marks & Spencer chairman Archie Norman said EU proposals for administering the protocol are “highly bureaucratic and pretty useless” given British food standards are “equivalent or higher” than those set by Brussels.

The former Conservative MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the bloc is suggesting that the same background checks, including veterinary checks, required for the Republic of Ireland are also needed to send goods from other parts of the UK to Northern Ireland.

“Incidentally that means that every piece of butter in a sandwich has to have an EU vet certificate, so it’s highly bureaucratic and pretty pointless,” he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Northern Ireland to discuss the protocol with political leaders on Monday (Liam McBurney/PA)

The UK Government is arguing for “green lanes” to be put in place whereby goods travelling between GB and NI and not destined to travel to the Republic of Ireland would not be subject to the same level of checks as those entering EU territory.

Mr Lewis said the EU’s proposals for lifting grace periods, which mean full checks are not in place, are “not viable” and would “make matters materially worse”.

He said Brussels’ interpretation of the protocol is going against its core principles by failing to respect the UK’s internal markets and causing friction that is preventing Northern Ireland from forming a new executive.

The row over the treaty has created an impasse in efforts to form a devolved government administration in Belfast, with the Democratic Unionist Party refusing to join an executive unless its concerns over the arrangements are addressed.

A majority of MLAs in Stormont’s newly elected Assembly represent parties that support retaining the protocol, with many arguing that the arrangement offers the region protection from some of the negative economic consequences of Brexit.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is due to give a statement in the House of Commons (Victoria Jones/PA)

They also point to the unfettered access Northern Ireland traders have to sell into the EU single market as a key benefit of the protocol.

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