‘That tweet has not aged well’: Northern Secretary questioned on Irish Sea border

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic is due to appear before a Stormont committee on Monday to face questions on the Irish Sea border.
‘That tweet has not aged well’: Northern Secretary questioned on Irish Sea border

By David Young, PA

The EU must back up its words about showing flexibility on the Northern Ireland protocol with actions, Brandon Lewis has said, while he acknowledged that a tweet he sent when the protocol came into force at the start of 2021 had “not aged well”.

The Northern Ireland Secretary made clear the British government would act to “rectify” the “big disruption” caused by the post-Brexit Irish Sea trading arrangements.

Mr Lewis blamed the problems attributed to the protocol on the EU’s “purist” implementation.

Brexit
Loyalists are demanding the removal of the Northern Ireland protocol. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

His comments on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show come amid ongoing talks between the UK and EU to hammer out ways to reduce the burden of red tape required to move goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“We’ve got to make sure that we are delivering for people in Northern Ireland, that we get the flexibility so that people in Northern Ireland have the same experience as they would anywhere else in the United Kingdom in terms of being able to receive products and goods,” said Mr Lewis.

“Now that’s a two-way thing and the EU needs to show the flexibility that they keep talking about.”

The protocol, which was agreed by the EU and UK as a way to keep the land border on the island of Ireland free-flowing, has created a series of new checks and restrictions on goods moving from Britain into Northern Ireland.

A prohibition on GB chilled meats entering the North is due to come into force this week, though the EU has indicated a willingness to grant a UK request to extend a temporary exemption period from the ban for a further three months to provide space to try to find an alternative solution.

The talks are playing out as tensions among Northern loyalists mount over the arrangements they claim have driven a constitutional wedge between the region and the rest of the UK.

Brexit
European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic will face questions on the Northern Ireland protocol from Stormont MLAs on Monday. Photo: European Commission/PA

There are concerns that loyalist anger could boil over during the North’s sensitive parading season during the summer.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic is due to appear before a Stormont committee on Monday to face questions on the EU’s stance on the protocol.

Mr Lewis again acknowledged that a tweet he sent when the protocol came into force at the start of 2021, in which he declared that there was no sea border, had “not aged well”.

“Actually on the 1st of January we were very clear that we wanted to have no sea border and what’s happened since then is what we’ve seen is the implementation of the protocol, the outworking of it, the purist way the EU want to see it, has meant that we’ve seen disruption in Northern Ireland, that not only isn’t what people foresaw but goes against the protocol itself – that’s why we need flexible solutions,” he said.

Mr Lewis said while there was not a sea border by the traditional definition of what a border meant, he acknowledged there were barriers to trade.

“If you’ve travelled to Northern Ireland, as I do regularly, when you go through the airports, you’re not going through a border in the sense that anybody expects the border, but I’m not denying the fact there is big disruption in Northern Ireland to businesses and consumers.

“We need to rectify that and we will do that.”

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