Brandon Lewis silent as PM’s ex-law chief says ministers misled the public over Irish Sea border

Brandon Lewis has refused to belatedly accept the Irish Sea border is real – even after the government’s former chief legal adviser spoke out to say ministers had misled the people of Northern Ireland about the new trade frontier.

Friday, 5th February 2021, 10:51 pm
Despite his government spending £50m to build ‘border control posts’ at Belfast, Larne and Warrenpoint ports, Brandon Lewis says there is no border. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty

Even after agreeing in writing that there would be a customs and regulatory border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 2019, Boris Johnson repeatedly denied that fact.

In recent weeks Secretary of State Brandon Lewis – who in a Lucid Talk poll was said to be doing a good or a great job by 4% of respondents – has again insisted “there is no Irish Sea border” despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, including his own government’s erection of what it describes as ‘border control posts’.

Sir Jonathan Jones, who until five months ago was the Treasury Solicitor and head of the Government Legal Service, said that it had been “obvious” that what had been agreed by Mr Johnson and the EU would disrupt existing trade routes within the UK.

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“It always seemed obvious, at least to me, that there was going to be a border in the Irish Sea,” he said.

Speaking on Times Radio, he said: “There has been a problem with people not being honest, or people [not] understanding what the consequence of the new agreements was going to be. It’s obviously feeding this public and political concern with the agreement.”

When asked if he blamed ministers for that, he said: “Ministers, politicians generally.

“I don’t know whether that was deliberate or whether it was wishful thinking or whether it’s people not understanding the full implications of what was being agreed.”

Sir Jonathan, who resigned over the Prime Minister’s moves towards breaking international law “in a limited and specific way”, urged ministers not to make the same mistake again.

“The idea that as soon as the going gets tough we threatened to tear up the agreement that we’ve only just recently reached or endorsed would be wrong in principle and a breach of international law,” he said.

“It would seem to me to completely undermine any notion of trust and confidence in the UK as a trading partner, whether with the EU or with anybody else. So I really hope that’s not what anybody means.”

The News Letter put Sir Jonathan’s comments to the Northern Ireland Office and asked if the Secretary of State continues to insist that there is no Irish Sea border.

In response, the NIO did not answer that question but said: “As we have always said, the Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed with the overriding objectives of protecting the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and recognising Northern Ireland’s status as an integral part of the UK.”

Earlier this week Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove abandoned claims by Boris Johnson that difficulties with the border were “teething problems”, admitting that some issues were structural problems.


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