An important intervention on the Northern Ireland Protocol from Hilary Benn MP

News Letter editorial on Monday May 23 2022:

By Editorial
Monday, 23rd May 2022, 2:02 am
Updated Tuesday, 24th May 2022, 8:34 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

There was a highly significant political intervention on the Northern Ireland Protocol yesterday from a senior Labour MP.

Hilary Benn elaborated on a tweet that he issued recently, in which he urged the EU to show flexibility over the Irish Sea border.

Mr Benn, speaking to BBC Northern Ireland, said that the protocol is not working (see link below).

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He said that the “idea there should be export health certificates on a cake, sandwich, or a cut of meat crossing the Irish Sea to be sold in Derry, Belfast or Strabane really isn’t necessary”.

He added: “Even the proposals Maros Sefcovic has put forward, while they would be less than the full application of the protocol, they would actually provide more checks than are happening at the moment, as we have these grace periods.”

These remarks represent a major development given Mr Benn’s status as a highly respected figure in the Labour Party. Also, he was such a committed supporter of the EU that he gave his name to what became known in 2019 as the ‘Benn Act’ (or in some Brexiteer quarters as the ‘Surrender Act’) which sought to make a no deal EU departure impossible.

Boris Johnson’s government cited that legislation as a reason why they had to agree the NI Protocol, or else Brexit would have been lost.

While Mr Benn is also highly critical of Mr Johnson’s plan to legislate unilaterally to amend the protocol, and while he is not adopting the same position on it as the DUP, his comments nonetheless underline the extent to which the debate has moved over the Irish Sea border.

The notion of rigorous implementation of the protocol is gone, with even the Irish government seeking changes to it.

Mr Johnson’s government, for all its blunders since 2019 that led to the internal UK barrier, has been vindicated in its unilateral grace periods and to press ahead with an overhaul of the sea border.

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