Government minister says if Britain tries to unilaterally change the Northern Ireland Protocol it will have no legal effect


A Government minister said a unilateral British move on the Northern Ireland Protocol – as reportedly imminent – will have no legal effect.

Homas Byrne, Deputy Secretary of State for European Affairs, accused London of placing itself against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s general election in May.

It is claimed that the Queen’s speech next month, which will set out the Tory government’s legislative program, could contain a reference to a bill that would allow Britain to make unilateral changes to the protocol. The proposal was leaked to the Financial Times today, a strategy previously adopted by Downing Street.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Britain’s Brexit Opportunities Minister, separately stressed that London has the right to act alone under the protocol if the European Commission fails to address the issues identified by the British side in the ongoing negotiations address.

But Minister Byrne countered today: “Neither the Queen nor the Houses of Parliament can easily undo what Britain has agreed to in an international treaty with the European Union. As simple as that.”

He added, “It was that easy a year and a half ago when they tried before.”

Citing Article 16, the British government had long discussed an emergency brake in the withdrawal agreement, he added.

“They gradually realized that it wasn’t as easy as they thought. It’s being talked about again now – it’s been talked about a lot – but the record is still there all the way through,” he said.

“And meanwhile the European Union is doing its best to ensure that any difficulties with the protocol are eased due to Brexit – and business with Northern Ireland is booming, by the way. So much investment has been made there because of Northern Ireland’s access to both the EU single market and the UK market.”

He admitted there were difficulties, particularly with some small companies importing from the UK, but that’s what the European Union is trying to solve, he said.

Mr Byrne linked the reports to the Assembly election campaign in Northern Ireland.

“You see, the situation is that there is an election going on in Northern Ireland at the moment. I don’t think it’s to anyone’s advantage to take unilateral steps during this election,” he said.

He said the European Commission and the EU had shown goodwill across the board and that the problem of drug difficulties was “completely resolved with hardly a whimper” just a few weeks ago.

The European Union had changed its laws to ensure there would be no problems with medicines being brought into Northern Ireland.

“We want to do that as well as possible with goods, customs duties and plants and animals,” he said of the ongoing negotiations. “We will be as sensitive as we can to the reality of the situation in Northern Ireland, as the government has always been here.

“But the truth is, there is an international agreement there that just isn’t going to be changed by either side.”

Meanwhile, Richard Boyd Barrett, TD of People Before Profit, whose party is running candidates in the North, told The Claire Byrne Show on RTÉ radio Boris Johnson was “pandering” to the unionist community.

“The DUP really is facing an existential crisis and they are trying to conjure it up [protocol] problem to strengthen their position,” he said.

“I think Boris Johnson is conjuring up a kind of ‘Make Britain Great Again’ message by really appealing to the most backward elements in his own party and in British society.

“It’s really not helpful, but I hope we’ll see another significant challenge to this type of unionism in the election.”

Minister Byrne said the issues facing both sides in the Northern Ireland election were the same bread-and-butter issues “that people here would raise with politicians”, in relation to the cost of living.

“So the idea that protocol is the number one problem is just not the case. The two governments really need to pull together – let the parties there vote and let’s work to solve the real problems in Northern Ireland.” Government minister says if Britain tries to unilaterally change the Northern Ireland Protocol it will have no legal effect

Fry Electronics Team

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