The Northern Ireland Protocol is not working, says top Labour Party MP Hilary Benn

The EU needs to make changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, a senior Labour MP has warned.

By Mark Rainey
Sunday, 22nd May 2022, 1:09 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd May 2022, 8:10 am

Hilary Benn urged the EU to make changes to the Irish Sea border, in addition to the changes they made on medicines.

Mr Benn, who was speaking on BBC Northern Ireland on Sunday, has made similar comments in a recent Twitter thread.

His remarks are striking because he is seen as pro European Union and his name was informally given to the so-called ‘Benn Act’ of 2019, which sought to prevent a no deal departure from the EU.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Mr Benn is also a former chair of the House of Commons Brexit Select Committee.

Mr Benn said: “The problem is twofold. One is the protocol isn’t working, and secondly government in Northern Ireland isn’t functioning.”

He added: “The thing to understand is the protocol was drawn up to deal with the fact there is not going to be and never will be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.”

He told Mark Carruthers on Sunday Politics: “It makes sense to reach agreement as to which of the goods are not at risk of travelling on to the Republic of Ireland.

Hilary Benn MP - BBC Sunday Politics screengrab

“If you take supermarket deliveries, they only sell in shops in Northern Ireland, so what actually is at risk to the integrity of the single market?

“I have become convinced 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.”

Mr Benn 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.”

But Mr Benn also urged Boris Johnson to work in agreement with Brussels, not unilaterally.

Calling on both the prime minister and the EU Commission to “get round the table” to resolve outstanding issues, Mr Benn said: “If the United States thinks that anything that Boris Johnson’s government is doing is going to undermine the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement or the workings of the protocol, then I think the UK will be waiting a very long time for a trade agreement with the United States of America.”

The Labour MP for Leeds Central and former cabinet minister added: “Now there are lots of other issues to be sorted out – food standards, animal welfare – which are going to be quite complex and difficult, but the United States has obviously taken a long-term interest in what has happened in Northern Ireland, the terrible Troubles that we saw, appalling loss of life, and that is why the Good Friday Agreement is so precious to everybody, and there is a very strong body of opinion in the Congress in the United States of America that ‘if this is being undermined in any way, we are not going to be doing a trade deal.’

“So that is another reason why Boris Johnson’s government, and the EU Commission, need to get round the table. Less escalation, I would call it, and more conciliation to find a way forward.”