MPs urge UK to stop ‘unilateral’ action on Northern Ireland Brexit checks

LONDON — The British government faced fresh domestic criticism over its “unilateral” move to waive post-Brexit checks on goods entering Northern Ireland.

Simon Hoare, the Conservative chair of the Northern Ireland select committee, on Wednesday called on ministers to recognize the “very destabilizing effect on trust” of Britain’s decision to unilaterally extend a number of grace periods designed to stagger the introduction of checks at the border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Brussels says the move breaches the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement’s Northern Ireland protocol, a crucial part of the deal aimed to preserve the Good Friday peace agreement. The European Commission is preparing to take legal action as a result.

Hoare urged Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis to resume discussions with the EU at the Joint Committee, created to oversee the protocol.

Speaking during an urgent question in the House of Commons, Hoare called on Lewis “to desist from a narrative of unilateral action and debate, get back around the Joint Committee table and make sure that the protocol works, that everybody understands that it is here to stay and that it can benefit very significantly the people, the economy and communities in Northern Ireland.”

Labour’s Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh said the government’s unilateral response meant its “words cannot be trusted.”

“Provocation is not a strategy and a stop gap is not a solution,” she told MPs. “This is an extraordinary position for a government to be in — having to break the law and trash Britain’s international reputation to remove checks they claimed never existed.”

That was echoed by Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, who pleaded with Lewis to focus on negotiating longer-term solutions, including agreeing a veterinary protocol with the EU.

“It’s far from clear to me just exactly what the government is trying to achieve in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol at the moment, but whatever it is you have to think that it can only have been damaged by what we saw happening and the continuous insistence on unilateral action here,” he said.

The Scottish National Party also criticized the move, with MP Richard Thomson attacking the “provocative and belligerent manner” of the U.K. government’s actions.

But Lewis defended the U.K. government’s “lawful” decision, which he said had been backed by a “range of businesses and the communities” in Northern Ireland.

He said ministers had wanted to agree a solution with Brussels, but argued it had been impossible to reach consensus with Brussels before the deadline the government had set itself for making a decision. The U.K. remains committed to trying to find “permanent solutions” through the Joint Committee, he added.

“My view is having spoken to businesses, if we hadn’t have taken the action that we took last week, we would have had empty shelves in supermarkets in Northern Ireland imminently now and I think that would have raised tensions further and it may well have undermined the protocol fatally, in a way that is not actually in the best interests of either the EU, the U.K. or the people of Northern Ireland,” Lewis said.



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