By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of “continually imposing regulations and laws” over the heads of people in Northern Ireland, by the new shadow secretary of state.
Peter Kyle visited Stormont for the first time since his appointment as shadow secretary of state for the North, and expressed concerns over British government policies on Brexit and proposals to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
Mr Kyle, who replaced Louse Haigh in the role, is meeting political parties as well as business, victims and cultural groups this week and said he wanted to use the trip to “listen and learn”.
He told the PA news agency: “I was disappointed in recent days I couldn’t get over here fast enough.
“It is my absolute conviction to be a voice for the whole of Northern Ireland in Westminster, and in order to do that I need to meet as many people as I can, I need to listen as much as I can and I need to build as many relationships as possible.”
The Labour MP warned that the North faces a “cliff edge” if Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol is triggered.
The protocol was agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland after the UK left the EU.
The UK government and the EU are trying to reach an agreement that would reduce customs paperwork and the number of checks required on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Mr Kyle said: “We know that Northern Ireland is in the front line of the Brexit challenge, that it is facing a real cliff edge at the moment with the potential of Article 16 being triggered.
“We have a Government in Westminster which is continually imposing regulations and laws on Northern Ireland.
“It doesn’t feel like Northern Ireland is in control of its own destiny. I want to revive the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
“It has been a source of frustration to me that the Westminster Government has too often been imposing views on Northern Ireland or not taking Northern Ireland’s views into consideration whilst very significant policies are being formulated that will profoundly impact Northern Ireland.
“That is something that the Labour Party is reconciled to changing, bringing life back into the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mr Kyle also expressed concerns about UK government proposals unveiled by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to end prosecutions for Troubles offences, which are opposed by all the political parties in the North, as well as victims’ groups and the Irish Government.
He said: “I am excited to meet and hear from victims themselves.
“I know as a former shadow victims’ minister that you can’t do policy to victims, you must do policy being led by victims.
“The thing that really, really worries me about the Government’s approach is that it is dictating from the top what victims should be doing and feeling and when it is right for them to move on.
“Only victims can decide when it is right to move on and how they move on. They must be in the driving seat of any policy – right now I don’t think they are even in the car.
“I will be listening very closely to victims and I will be offering them the guarantee that they will be in the driving seat of any Labour policy in this challenge going forward.”