By Connor Steel
HOME SECRETARY Suella Braverman has played down media suggestions she could resign over potential changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol as she participated in a live interview with GB News (February 22); coming hours after Prime Minster Rishi Sunak offered MPs an update on European Union (EU) negotiations.
It comes as the PM visited Northern Ireland during the Parliamentary recess last week to discuss the current arrangements, which were negotiated by Boris Johnson and came into effect two years ago. It has seen the country follow limited EU laws in order to reduce a need for checks at the UK border with Republic of Ireland.
However this “trading agreement” has caused tension with the Government wanting to create green and red “lanes” for goods imported from the UK into Northern Ireland. Green lanes would be used for trusted traders transporting goods only into Northern Ireland and would be exempt from all border checks / custom controls, whilst in contrast red lanes would be used for products going to Republic of Ireland and fellow EU countries.
The UK Government are furthermore looking to change tax rules for businesses in Northern Ireland, that are currently following the EU regulations on state aid and VAT. They are also asking for an independent body to settle future legal disputes over the Northern Ireland protocol instead of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
But political parties in Northern Ireland are divided with the DUP arguing that EU laws have been imposed on the country with “democratic scrutiny or consent” and this must be changed. They also oppose the UK “lane” proposals as it could create an “invisible border” across the Irish Sea, which they argue risks the sovereignty of Northern Ireland and its place in the union; continuing to prevent a devolved Government within Stormont.
The EU have said they are unprepared to make major changes to the protocol but did approve to talks about certain factors, including reducing paperwork and reducing customs / checks on goods. Negotiations started in June last year on the Northern Ireland protocol and the parties are hoping to conclude the process by mid April, which will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the historic Good Friday Agreement signed back in 1998.
With a deal due in the coming weeks there have been suggestions of multiple Government resignations if it doesn’t match demands from Brexiteer MPs. One of these key names is the Fareham MP who resigned her role under Theresa May over Brexit and was a high profile member of the European Research Group (ERG).
Members of the ERG have expressed their concerns about any new deal and sources say they are prepared to quit as ministers in protest if required, with this subject discussed in a televised interview between the MP and GB News. In response Ms Braverman said: “I do not think we need to be talking about resignation. I’ve taken a very forthright position in the past because I’ve found the terms of previous agreements intolerable.”
However, she did warn that she would not support a deal that ended up “selling out on Northern Ireland and allowing the EU a foothold in the United Kingdom”. She added that it was vital “to “safeguard what we have gained from the 2016 Brexit vote” and “properly take back control”, stating Mr Sunak “shares that objective”.
During the weekly session of PMQs Mr Sunak said he had heard the demands from all MPs “loud and clear”, adding that “addressing the democratic deficit is an essential part of the negotiations”. He did however warn against MPs speculating too much about the contents of the new agreement as EU discussions are ongoing.
The Prime Minister furthermore signalled his intentions to allow MPs a vote on any changes to the Northern Ireland agreement; a move that was welcomed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. He responded by stating his party would support the changes, which would stave off any rebellions from Conservative backbenchers.
Readers are encouraged to visit media sites such as BBC News, Sky News and ITV News for all developing updates on this story, including any Commons’ statements from Rishi Sunak or any further media interviews.
PICTURED BY ALAMY (2CD8B60): Cranes stand located in the Port of Belfast within Northern Irish capital.