By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
There will be no renegotiation of the Windsor Framework agreed between the UK Government and the EU, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has told peers.
Mr Cleverly also said it was “inconceivable” that the Government would ignore the Stormont brake element of the deal if it was triggered by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Appearing before the House of Lords Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee, Mr Cleverly said the deal was achieved because both sides accepted a “degree of theoretical risk”.
The UK Government and EU unveiled the Windsor pact earlier this year as a means of resolving trading difficulties between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, caused by the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.
But the DUP, which collapsed the Stormont power-sharing institutions last year in protest at the protocol, has said its political and trading concerns must be met before it returns to government.
Mr Cleverly told peers about the process of achieving the agreement, which he said was designed to “square a circle.”
He added: “What we sought to do through this was to turn what had been a conversation about theoretical problems into a conversation about practical problems and how we might resolve them
“Where we have ended up is accepting on both sides a degree of theoretical risk that we think is very manageable in the real world.
“That is what helped us shift and get a deal over the line.”
The Foreign Secretary was also questioned about the Stormont brake element of the Windsor deal.
The brake mechanism would allow a minority of MLAs in the Stormont Assembly to formally flag concerns about the imposition of new EU laws in Northern Ireland – a move that could see the UK Government veto their introduction in the region.
“The Stormont brake is an incredibly important mechanism, it is a unique mechanism that Stormont has that isn’t replicated in any other part of the UK because of Northern Ireland’s unique relationship with Ireland and therefore by extension with the EU,” Mr Cleverly said.
He added: “We would hope that it is not needed, we hope we can tackle any potential diversion issues before it was needed to be used.
“But it is there for a reason, and it is powerful for a reason. It is not envisaged to be used lightly which is why it is set at least two parties and at least 30 MLAs in order to make sure that it is something that is taken seriously by all parties.
“Because it is structured as such the UK Government is duty-bound to take it very seriously, in a political sense, if this was triggered it is inconceivable that the British Government would ignore it.
“It is designed to be used if necessary, but ultimately what we want to do is avoid circumstances where there is the necessity for its use.”
Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey asked the Foreign Secretary if the Government had any intention of negotiating changes to the framework during the current parliament.
Mr Cleverly said: “It is a very simply answer which is no.”
He then referred to the Government’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which was introduced last year to override parts of the protocol, but was dropped when the framework was agreed.
He said: “It was really, really, really unpopular, with our interlocutors in the European Commission and had that progressed through all of its parliamentary stages, I know that would have caused huge amounts of friction between the UK Government and the European Commission.
“It was there to address the issues which were raised to us by the unionist community and their representatives about the feeling that Northern Ireland was being pulled away from its rightful position in the United Kingdom.
“I was willing, if need be, to cause damage to our bilateral relationship with the Commission, in order protect Northern Ireland as part of the UK.”
He added: “The reason why I say no to renegotiation is because we got movement from the Commission that for many, many years the Commission told us was impossible.
“The idea that somehow there was a significantly or subtly better deal just over the horizon I think is wrong.”
He said the EU had taken political risks to reach the Windsor deal, as well as the UK.
“If we reopen negotiations there is no guarantee that we would get more movement from the EU.
“It may be entirely feasible that their hinterland would say if you’re renegotiating with the Brits, we want you to negotiate this thing back off the table.
“I genuinely feel that this was the best deal that we could get that was also sellable within the EU, and it needs to be sellable within the UK, including Northern Ireland, and it needs to be sellable within the EU as well.”