Labour accuses Boris Johnson of ‘dishonesty’ in denying Irish Sea border’s existence

Boris Johnson promised that there would be no fettering of trade into or out of Northern Ireland – but that is not the caseBoris Johnson promised that there would be no fettering of trade into or out of Northern Ireland – but that is not the case
Boris Johnson promised that there would be no fettering of trade into or out of Northern Ireland – but that is not the case
Boris Johnson’s government is acting dishonestly in denying the reality of the Irish Sea border, Labour has said.

Just over a year ago, Mr Johnson publicly insisted that despite what the words in his own withdrawal agreement with the EU said, “there’s no question of there being checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain or Great Britain to Northern Ireland”.

On January 1, as the reality of the new Irish Sea border dawned, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis insisted: “There is no ‘Irish Sea border”. He has repeatedly stood over that, most recently on Thursday night on BBC Question Time, despite products vanishing from shelves, delivery costs being increased and hauliers reporting chronic problems moving products from GB to NI.

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When confronted by the Prime Minister’s public promise that there would be no checks, Mr Lewis visibly squirmed but said that he would have to see the whole quote in context before commenting on it.

A viewer asked Mr Lewis: “If it’s not a border down the Irish Sea, then what is it?”

Mr Lewis replied: “I’ve never seen it as a border down the Irish Sea”.

When pressed to answer the question, Mr Lewis referred to just one part of the new border – sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks on animals – by saying: “Well, there have been SPS checks in one form or another since the 19th century.”

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He insisted that the government had not put in new customs infrastructure – even though it is now impossible to move goods to Northern Ireland without multiple new, and in some cases very complex, customs declarations.

Professor Anand Menon, an expert in Brexit, told Question Time: “You are having these kind of checks within a can call it a border or not as you please but those checks will be there and they will be real and they’ll affect the nature of trade between GB and NI.”

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State, Louise Haigh, told the News Lette that “throughout last year when the Government should have been moving heaven and earth to prepare Northern Ireland for the changes to come, the Prime Minister was instead denying there would be any checks at all.

“This dishonesty has robbed businesses of the time they needed to prepare, and left many in the dark about what they needed to do. It’s unhelpful and counter-productive for the Secretary of State to still indulge in that denial.”

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However, unlike many in the DUP and other unionists who want to see the Northern Ireland protocol scrapped, Ms Haigh said that “the protocol has to be made to work” and there should be “a major information drive for British businesses trading with Northern Ireland to make them aware of what they need to do, scale up customs support to help businesses cope with the new red tape, and work through the Joint Committee to resolve the cliff-edge in March and other outstanding issues.”

A spokesman for the government said: “We have always acknowledged that there will be some new processes for GB-NI movements, building on existing processes for agri-food, and have been clear that these should be streamlined and simplified to the maximum extent.

“Overall, in the first three weeks post-transition, goods have continued to flow effectively and we see high confidence in supplies.

“We welcome the steps taken by businesses to prepare. The Government will continue to work closely with businesses to adapt to the changes. Over 60 pieces of sector specific guidance have already been published and there are dedicated helplines on both the Trader Support Service and the Movement Assistance Scheme, covering both SPS and customs requirements.”

Dodds’ department considers border’s benefits

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A Stormont department run by a Brexiteer DUP minister is considering a paper which speaks of the protocol which establishes the Irish Sea border as a “window of opportunity” to establish Northern Ireland as a “manufacturing gateway to the UK and EU”.

A document leaked to the Daily Mirror shows that senior civil servants in Diane Dodds’ Department for the Economy have identified “deep and stubborn structural weaknesses” in the NI economy and warns that “the economic-drag of these longstanding issues stands to get worse as the impacts of Covid, Brexit and climate change are concentrated in these areas of weakness”.

The department stressed that the document was a draft which had not yet gone to the minister or been adopted as policy.

However, the document says that Mrs Dodds’ spad, former DUP MLA Alastair Ross, “has been closely involved in the development process and is comfortable with the direction of travel”.

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A spokesman for the department highlighted that “the document clearly states that ‘protecting all of our business with GB remains the single most important priority for the future of the Northern Ireland economy’, and that the negative impacts of the protocol must be mitigated, but the protocol is also a reality and it is the role of the department to identify and explore any potential opportunities that exist for businesses in Northern Ireland from the unique position we find ourselves in.”


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