EU 'unwilling' to resolve Northern Ireland issue says MP
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The leader of the House of Commons suggested unionists in Northern Ireland will be able to get rid of the protocol if they join forces. But he said they will have to wait until the next Assembly election and urged them not to bring down Stormont before then.
But his comments have sparked anger with former MEP Ben Habib claiming it was “disingenuous” for Mr Rees-Mogg to make such a statement.
Mr Habib tweeted: “It is disingenuous of Jacob Rees-Mogg to say unionists can get rid of the Protocol in the years ahead.
“The onus is not on them to get rid of it.
“The onus was on Boris Johnson first to gain their agreement.
“They do not agree. #DitchTheNip.”
The Northern Ireland protocol means UK authorities apply EU customs rules to goods entering Northern Ireland.
This means there are some new administrative processes for traders, notably new electronic import declaration requirements, and safety and security information, for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Mr Rees-Mogg said if unionists turn against the Northern Ireland protocol, they will be “within their power” to get rid of it in the near future.
He said: “And so this is very important, if the unionist parties are against the protocol then they will be able to get rid of it if they unite in elections and are able to have a fair majority because it’s not a cross-community vote.
“Interestingly, it not being a normal Assembly vote with requirements for cross-community support was a requirement of the pro-Europeans rather than the Brexiteers in the negotiations. So that’s an important caveat.
“If they turn against the protocol, they will be within their power to get rid of it in not too many years and that’s important, that’s very significant and an interesting point for the European Union to bear in mind.
“Because it’s got to realise if it wants the protocol to work, it’s got to ensure that the unionists remain onside with it.”
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He added how it was the European Union who demanded: “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Northern Ireland remained part of the EU’s single market following the UK’s departure from the bloc as of January 1.
But tensions in Northern Ireland have escalated over recent weeks after the EU invoked Article 16 following a bitter row over coronavirus vaccination supplies.
This is part of the Northern Ireland Protocol which governs the island’s trading arrangements with the EU and Great Britain.
Article 16 is intended to be used when the protocol is unexpectedly leading to serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.
After it was triggered, Boris Johnson told European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen he had “grave concerns” and spoke to Irish counterpart Micheal Martin.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster described the move as an “incredible act of hostility”.
However, the EU soon announced it was “not triggering the safeguard clause” and argued it had been an “oversight”.
Ms von der Leyen tweeted following “constructive talks” with the Prime Minister.
She said: “We agreed on the principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities.”
Last week, the DUP, UUP and TUV announced a legal bid to challenge the protocol with Mr Habib backing judicial review proceedings.
Ms Foster said they were committed to challenging the protocol in “the courts, in Parliament, in Scotland and in Brussels”.
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