Brandon Lewis: ‘Move against NI Protocol unlikely in Queen’s speech’

A move against the NI Protocol is unlikely to feature in the Queen’s Speech, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has intimated.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has urged the Government to act on unionists’ concerns around the post-Brexit trading arrangements, criticising them as harmful to the union and calling for Northern Ireland’s position in the UK internal market to be protected.

However on Wednesday evening Mr Lewis said the Government wants to resolve issues with the protocol by agreement with the European Union.

Asked if the Government is planning to introduce a new law allowing it to waive elements of the protocol, Mr Lewis signalled that it would not be in the Queen’s Speech.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

He told an interview with ITV’s Robert Peston: “Our focus is on resolving the issues with the protocol, ideally we want to do that by agreement with the European Union. The challenge we’ve got at the moment…”

Pressed on whether an announcement would come next week, he said: “No, Robert, we’ve not said that.”

Mr Lewis said: “What we’ve been clear about is at the moment, the protocol is causing problems in civic society, it’s causing problems with the Good Friday Agreement.

“Our duty to the people of Northern Ireland is to resolve those issues. Yes, we want to do that with the EU and that’s what Liz Truss has been focused on.”

Mr Lewis later tweeted: “We will do whatever it takes to protect the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. It is clear that the Protocol does not have the support of the unionist community and is not working for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

“We have to address the outstanding issues and we want to do that by agreement with the EU, but as we have always made clear, we will not shy away from taking further steps if necessary.”

The DUP withdrew First Minister Paul Givan from the Stormont Executive in February in protest at the protocol, a move which left the institutions unable to fully function.

Sir Jeffrey has made his call for action against the protocol a key part of his party’s campaign for the Stormont Assembly election which takes place on Thursday.

He said his party will not enter a future Executive unless the government takes action on the protocol.

He has addressed a series of rallies which have taken place across Northern Ireland in recent months against the protocol which is regarded by unionists as a border in the Irish Sea.

Sir Jeffrey tweeted a message to voters on Wednesday evening to use their vote to “send a clear message – the Protocol must go”.

“The NI Protocol has created a border in the Irish Sea & represents an existential threat to future of Northern Ireland’s place within the Union. The longer the Protocol remains, the more it harms the Union itself,” he tweeted.

“The Government knows that the Protocol does not enjoy the support of Unionists and Brussels can be in no doubt that the Protocol has cast its long shadow over Northern Ireland’s political arrangements and harming our economy.

“Now is the moment to send a clear signal that the Irish Sea border must go and the Protocol must be replaced by arrangements that restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the U.K. Internal Market.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said if the government is “resiling (again) from action against the protocol”, then, unionists “must use the election to send the strongest rejection of the iniquitous protocol by voting TUV – No Sea Border”.

He described his party as the <“voice of unrelenting opposition to the protocol”.

Earlier Mr Lewis said he hopes the local parties can form a new Executive after the votes are counted in today’s Assembly election.

He also said he wanted everyone to get out and participate in the democratic process across the Province.

“I have conveyed to the parties the need to work together to restore fully functioning devolved institutions as soon as they can, when the count is complete.

“The people of NI are going to the polls today. I encourage everyone to get out there and cast their vote,” he said.