LiveBrandon Lewis tells of surprise at Tanaiste’s comments on reunification of Ireland

Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, said he was surprised when he learned Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he was confident of Irish reunification within his lifetime.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 3:20 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 6:12 pm

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Brandon Lewis pictured with former First Minister, Arlene Foster, at the British Irish Council meeting in Co. Fermanagh last week.
Brandon Lewis pictured with former First Minister, Arlene Foster, at the British Irish Council meeting in Co. Fermanagh last week.

LIVE UPDATES: Protocol could present opportunity for Northern Ireland says SoS Brandon Lewis

Last updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2021, 12:40

Protocol could present opportunity for Northern Ireland says SoS Brandon Lewis

If the Protocol can be implemented in a “proper, flexible, pragmatic way it does create an opportunity for Northern Ireland”, Brandon Lewis has said.

SDLP MP Colum Eastwood (Foyle) asked: “With all the talk of sausages and the Protocol, I hear very little from this Government on the benefits of the Protocol for local producers.”

Mr Lewis replied: “If we get the Protocol to work in a proper, flexible, pragmatic way it does create an opportunity for Northern Ireland, but we also have to be cognizant of the fact that at the moment it is causing real disruption, real problems for businesses, for consumers in Northern Ireland, from across the whole community and it does have an impact in the sense of identity for people in the unionist community.

“We have to accept that, respond to that and deal with the Protocol in a pragmatic way and that’s why I think it is so important that the EU understand that and engage with people in Northern Ireland to get a real understanding of why Northern Ireland is such an important part of our UK.”

Lord Frost told MPs that the protocol needed consent from all sides in Northern Ireland

Lord Frost told MPs that the protocol needed consent from all sides in Northern Ireland.

Conservative MP Scott Benton asked Lord Frost: “You are clearly aware of the feelings of grassroots loyalists in relation to the protocol. What is the Government doing to reassure this part of the community who in some cases feel completely abandoned by the protocol ahead of what could be a very difficult summer season?”

Lord Frost said: “We try to stay in touch with all range of opinion in Northern Ireland. We are well aware of this and it is very clear in the spiralling political developments we’ve had since the end of January.

“Although we were heavily criticised at the time I believe that the decision we took on extending grace periods at the beginning of March was reassuring that we would not just watch things develop and do nothing.

“As the PM said we’ll do whatever we have to, to make sure we support the peace process. The protocol depends on consent, it is very difficult to operate if there is not consent and willingness from one section of Northern Ireland opinion.”

Lord Frost told MPs he sensed that there had been a “slight misunderstanding” within the EU over the constitutional position of Northern Ireland for some time.

It followed reports that French president Emmanuel Macron had said to Boris Johnson at the G7 summit that Northern Ireland was not part of the UK.

DUP MP Ian Paisley asked Lord Frost: “One of the other partners to this at the weekend didn’t seem to understand that Northern Ireland was actually part of the United Kingdom, namely Monsieur Macron in his comments about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.

“If one of the other partners who has signed up to the protocol doesn’t understand that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, does that give you opportunity to move on this as well?”

Lord Frost responded: “I think we’ve sensed that this sort of slight misunderstanding about the status of Northern Ireland has been around for some time, possibly quite a long time.

“It is obviously rather concerning if people see things in that way, it doesn’t seem to us to be consistent with the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement which are very clear on that.”

Lord Frost accused the European Union of taking a “purist” approach in the row over the movement of sausages from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“We obviously face a difficulty on the chilled meats issue,” he told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

“We have asked and suggested to the EU that the right way forward would be to agree to extend the grace period, at least for a bit, to provide a bit of a breathing space for the current discussions to continue and try and find solutions.

“I still hold out some hope that they might agree to that because it seems a very narrow point to take such a purist view about.

“We are not having much progress but there is a little bit of time left before that.”

He added: “It would seem to me a pity to make this negotiation, that is already pretty complex and tense, more so by being very purist about that, but there we are.”

Lord Frost accused the European Union of taking a “purist” approach in the row over the movement of sausages from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“We obviously face a difficulty on the chilled meats issue,” he told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

“We have asked and suggested to the EU that the right way forward would be to agree to extend the grace period, at least for a bit, to provide a bit of a breathing space for the current discussions to continue and try and find solutions.

“I still hold out some hope that they might agree to that because it seems a very narrow point to take such a purist view about.

“We are not having much progress but there is a little bit of time left before that.”

He added: “It would seem to me a pity to make this negotiation, that is already pretty complex and tense, more so by being very purist about that, but there we are.”

Ian Paisley tells man who negotiated NI Protocol that Unionists feel 'betrayed' by it

DUP MP Ian Paisley told Brexit minister Lord Frost that unionist people feel “betrayed” by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He added: “You will know that the business community, they feel at best hamstrung, and you will know that there has been community unrest.

“I would like to understand what is the Government’s current objective?”

Lord Frost responded: “Our wish is that we need to find agreed solutions which enable the protocol to operate in a way that is consistent with the Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions, so east-west as well as north-south.

“If we can’t do that, and at the moment we aren’t making a lot of progress then all options are on the table for what happens next, but obviously we would rather find agreed solutions.”

Lord Frost also told MPs he sensed that there had been a “slight misunderstanding” within the EU over the constitutional position of Northern Ireland for some time.

It followed reports that French president Emmanuel Macron had said to Boris Johnson at the G7 summit that Northern Ireland was not part of the UK.

DUP MP Ian Paisley asked Lord Frost: “One of the other partners to this at the weekend didn’t seem to understand that Northern Ireland was actually part of the United Kingdom, namely Monsieur Macron in his comments about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.

“If one of the other partners who has signed up to the protocol doesn’t understand that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, does that give you opportunity to move on this as well?”

Lord Frost responded: “I think we’ve sensed that this sort of slight misunderstanding about the status of Northern Ireland has been around for some time, possibly quite a long time.

“It is obviously rather concerning if people see things in that way, it doesn’t seem to us to be consistent with the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement which are very clear on that.”

‘All options remain on the table’ - Lord Frost

Brexit minister Lord Frost told MPs that “all options remain on the table” in the row with the European Union over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We’d prefer to find negotiated ways forwards if we can,” he said.

“If that’s not possible, obviously other options remain on the table, as the PM said over the weekend.”

Asked about the uncertainty the row was causing for businesses, he said “there comes a point where the unsatisfactoriness of the current situation and the attempts to operate it contributes to the uncertainty and instability”.

“And then a responsible effort to bring stability and certainty can improve the situation rather than make it more difficult,” he said.

“So obviously if we judge that’s the situation then we look at the range of options that might bring further stability.”

Lord Frost went on to tell MPs the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol had become more difficult because of the “weakening of consent” for the arrangements in unionist groups.

“The difficulty that we have had since the start of the year, or at least the end of January, is there has been a very visible weakening of consent in one community in Northern Ireland for the arrangements in the protocol and that’s obviously produced instability and uncertainty,” he said.

Lord Frost admits to MPs that he negotiated the NI Protocol

Minister of State for the Cabinet Office and de facto Brexit Secretary, Lord Frost, has confirmed to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) that he negotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol on behalf of the government in 2019.

When asked by DUP MP for North Antrim, Ian Paisley Jnr, what the government’s objective is concerning the protocol, Lord Frost appeared to say that his focus was to make the protocol operate as smoothly as possible.

“Whatever happens Lord Frost this can’t go on much longer before something gives and I am seriously worried about the fabric of our society,” said Mr. Paisley.

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