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Tom Honan/RollingNews.ie
Here we go again

Coveney: London's bid to override NI protocol brings British-Irish relations to new low

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald criticised Brandon Lewis, saying he was ‘talking through his hat’.

LAST UPDATE | 12 Jun 2022

BRITISH-IRISH RELATIONS have sunk to a “new low” as a result of Westminster’s pushing ahead with legislation to override the Northern Ireland Protocol, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said.

The bill, which will unilaterally change some aspects of the UK’s Brexit Agreement is set to be published by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tomorrow.

Coveney told RTÉ News today:

The UK has been in many ways the standard bearer for international law and the protection of international law for many, many years. this is damaging that reputation in a very fundamental way, but it’s also a new low in terms of the relationship between Britain and Ireland, which is something that many of us have worked so hard to protect and enhance in recent years

The protocol itself ensures that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland by Northern Ireland effectively remaining in the EU’s single market for goods. This has created checks on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Speaking on Sky News this morning, Westminster’s Northern Ireland Secretary Lewis said that the bill would not breach international law.

“First of all, the legislation we’ll outline tomorrow is within the law. What we’re going to do is lawful and it is correct,” said Lewis.

When pressed on how people could be sure it wouldn’t break the law and whether or not the UK Government would be publishing the legal advice behind the legislation, Lewis said that people will see that they are acting within the law when the legislation itself is published.

On the same programme, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald criticised both Lewis and the UK Government’s plan to override the Protocol unilaterally, saying that the UK is not engaging with the EU to solve issues caused by the protocol.

“Brandon Lewis is talking through his hat and not for the first time,” said McDonald.

Brandon Lewis should know, the Tory government should know that where there are issues to be resolved with the protocol, issues of smoothing out its application, there are mechanisms through which that can happen.

“There is a willingness to engage by the European Commission that the British government has refused to engage, has not been constructive, has sought a destructive path and is now proposing to introduce legislation that will undoubtedly breach international law.”

McDonald added that the proposed override of the Protocol would go against the wishes of people in Northern Ireland, where a majority of MLA’s are pro-Protocol.

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood has said the British government are fooling nobody with their claims around legislation on the protocol.

He said: “When I challenged Boris Johnson to commit to upholding international law in the House of Commons this week he was unable to give me a straight answer. We know that his own advisers believe the Protocol legislation will breach the agreement with the EU and the attempt by Brandon Lewis to suggest otherwise is fooling nobody.

“Johnson and his government have proved time and time again that they will say and do anything that furthers their own self-interest. They have a casual relationship with the truth and have shown they are willing to totally disregard the law and the feelings of the people they represent as and when it suits them. They have no regard for people in the North or the serious harm this and their move on legacy will have on people here.

However, Lewis previously pointed to a majority of Unionist MLA’s being against the Protocol, including both DUP and UUP MLAs.

When asked if the DUP had given a guarantee to re-enter power sharing when the bill was published, Lewis said that one had not been given.

“No, that’s a matter for the DUP. I would expect to see the DUP, when they see us resolving the issues of the protocol, following what they said was their position, which is as they see the protocol issues being resolved that they would restore the institutions.”

Earlier this week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that the UK’s plans to unilaterally override the protocol would be “deeply damaging” and that it would mark a “historic low point”.

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