The Northern Ireland minister said the key to restoring the executive is now out of the government’s hands. The Northern Ireland protocol has been a sticking point in negotiations between the UK and the EU.
In 2020, both sides agreed to a protocol in which a de facto customs border would be established in the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from Great Britain, much to the displeasure of the DUP.
The protocol was designed to keep Northern Ireland in the EU Customs Union and the UK out after Brexit.
Speaking to The Telegraph about whether he was worried that a Northern Ireland executive’s absence could be indefinite if Brussels doesn’t give ground, the Northern Ireland secretary answers plainly: “Yes.”
Mr Lewis added: “I made this point to the EU myself before the election. My opinion was that it was much easier to reach an agreement before the elections than after.
“The idea that it was going to be easier after the elections was crazy for the EU.
“When Stormont was not there for three years, the government had to spend three years trying to negotiate between the parties to agree on a government program and also with the Irish and British governments.”
Now, amid the deadlock caused by last month’s Stormont election, Brandon Lewis believes the EU will be responsible for indefinite chaos in Northern Ireland unless it agrees to renegotiate the Protocol, or the Government goes ahead with a plan to overturn the document with national legislation. .
But now the Unionists (DUP) are threatening to sit out of government unless the protocol is scrapped or replaced, as they say the Irish Sea border puts Northern Ireland’s place in the UK at risk.
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He wrote in the Telegraph: “The DUP refuses to nominate because it has a mandate through elections, as the largest party in trade unionism, not to nominate until the Protocol is resolved.
“And at the moment, the Protocol, which the EU says is trying to protect the Good Friday Agreement, is the document that puts the Good Friday Agreement at greatest risk.”
If the EU fails to renegotiate the document, the UK’s plan to unilaterally annul the Protocol will be the only way to restore power-sharing, says Lewis, given that the DUP’s objections are the only obstacle preventing the formation of a new executive. .
He said: “Restoring power sharing is about all parties in Northern Ireland being happy to nominate and Sinn Féin are keen to do so and move forward.”
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