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).
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.
• Ben Lowry May 21: There’s been a shift in London towards sympathy for NI over protocol
• Ben Lowry May 21: I do love Bangor, but it is hard to think of it as a city
• John Redwood May 20: The government must act soon over Protocol – NI unionists want their country back
• Owen Polley May 19: Expect full-tilt lies and hysteria in weeks ahead over Protocol
• Ben Habib May 18: There isn’t even a real threat of unilateral action on protocol
• Jim Allister May 17: Boris Johnson flew into NI with weak message on the protocol
• Ruth Dudley Edwards May 17: Thank you Lithuania for pursuing Omagh bomber
• Owen Polley May 16: Getting rid of the protocol is more important than the return of Stormont
• Henry McDonald May 14: Will Boris Johnson deliver beyond his rhetoric?