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Britain’s move ‘doesn’t stack up’, Taoiseach says as Bill to change NI Protocol gets second reading at Westminster

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: James Manning/PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: James Manning/PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: James Manning/PA

THE British government’s move on the Northern Ireland Protocol in the House of Commons today “doesn’t stack up,” the Taoiseach said as the override legislation was given its second reading at Westminster.

Any unilateral decision to breach international law is a major and serious development, “and there can be no getting out of that,” Mr Martin said, warning it would damage neighbourly relations.

On claims by Northern secretary Brandon Lewis that there would be widespread support for the Tory Bill to ‘fix’ distortions in the UK’s own single market, Mr Martin said: “One cannot trivialise the breaching of an international agreement between the United Kingdom government and the European Union.”

He added: “My concern is that there’s a trend towards unilateralism that’s emanating from the UK government.”

The Taoiseach explained: “We have it now in the protocol. We have it on legacy issues. We have it now in terms of the application of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg in terms of domestic British law.”

He pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement incorporates protections under the Human Rights Convention. “And that's something we'll be keeping a very close eye on,” he said.

“So I'm very clear on this, and I've been in touch with the president of the European Commission [Ursula von der Leyen], and with the president of the EU Council [Charles Michel]. They are concerned about this.

“They're conscious that similar efforts were made last year, but this is not a good move by the British Government - and it has to accept that unilateralism does not work in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, or indeed in the context of good relationships with your neighbours and with the European Union.”

Britain risks a trade war with the EU if it "brazenly breaks a solemn international treaty" via the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, a senior Conservative MP has warned.

Former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell also voiced concerns that the UK could "trash" its international reputation by approving the legislation designed to deal with issues connected to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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But Foreign Secretary Liz Truss sought to downplay his fears by arguing the Bill has a "strong legal justification" and the UK remains committed to seeking a negotiated solution.

The UK Government has argued the measures to remove checks on goods and animal and plant products travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are necessary to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement and peace and stability.

The imposition of checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in order to keep an open border with Ireland has angered unionists.

But capitals across the EU bloc reacted with outrage to the plans to override parts of the protocol, amid concerns it breaches international law.

Ms Truss, opening the second reading debate on the Bill, said the UK continues to raise issues of concern with the EU.

She told the Commons: "We simply cannot allow this situation to drift. Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since February due specifically to the protocol, at a time of major global economic challenges.

"Therefore, it is the duty of this Government to act now to enable a plan for restored local government to begin. It's both legal and necessary."

Mr Mitchell, intervening, said he has an "immense amount of sympathy" with what Ms Truss is saying.

But he added: "It does seem to me that the EU is not being particularly constructive in trying to get the solution we all want to see achieved.

"But can I say to her that many of us are extremely concerned that the Bill brazenly breaks a solemn international treaty, it trashes our international reputation, it threatens a trade war at a time when our economy is flat and it puts us at odds with our most important ally.

"Can she say anything to reassure me in my anxieties on these points?"

Ms Truss replied: "Our preference is for a negotiated solution and we have sought a negotiated solution for 18 months, but as recently as last weekend the EU have refused to change the text of the protocol.

"That is why there's strong legal justification, as set out in our legal statement, for us taking this action because our priority as the United Kingdom Government has to be political stability within our own country.

"And whilst we put this Bill through Parliament, we will continue to seek a negotiated solution with the EU - and in fact there are provisions of the Bill to deliver it."

Ms Truss said she would "strongly encourage" Mr Mitchell to raise this with the EU and encourage a negotiated solution.

She added: "There is a solution to be achieved, we have laid it out very clearly with our red and green lane proposal, but we need the EU to agree to change the text of the protocol.

"That is the fundamental issue that needs to be addressed."

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told MPs: "The reason I am putting this Bill forward is because I'm patriot and I'm a democrat."

Intervening, Labour's Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) said: "I suspect that when she was campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU, she never in a million years thought she'd be standing here proposing a Bill of this sort."

He asked: "Why is the Government not proposing to use the legal method to raise these questions with the EU through the treaty that it signed rather than one claiming necessity, when the Foreign Secretary is yet to give me a single example when the British Government has claimed necessity for abrogating a treaty that is negotiated and signed."

Ms Truss replied: "The reason I am putting this Bill forward is because I'm a patriot and I'm a democrat, and our number one priority is protecting peace and political stability in Northern Ireland and protecting the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and nothing (he) has suggested will achieve that end."

Meanwhile, young people from across all communities, regions, identities and backgrounds, North and South, are coming together in St Columb’s Hall in Derry tomorrow for the next Shared Island dialogue.
This is the eleventh event in the series, which aims to foster constructive and inclusive civic dialogue with all communities and traditions on a shared future on the island, underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement.

The Taoiseach will deliver an online opening address to participants.

Mr Martin said: “We have seen profound, positive changes in recent decades on how we address national, cultural and personal identity, and we need to sustain that in the time ahead.

“Acknowledgement of the legitimate diversity of identities on this island was critical to reaching the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Since then, we have created the space to not just acknowledge, but to fully harness and genuinely celebrate our different identities in arts and culture, in our schools, colleges and universities, in sports clubs and community halls and in our laws, politics and media.

“The views and actions of young people will be fundamental to how that space is used in the years ahead. I am sure that the Shared Island dialogue on identity will see inspiring contributions and commitment by young people to this most important dimension of how we build a shared, reconciled future on this island”.

A panel discussion will hear young people’s views on the challenges facing cultural diversity on the island.


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