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Johnson NI intervention not entirely unhelpful, says Mordaunt


Feb 19, 2023


LONDON — An intervention by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland is not “entirely unhelpful”, Commons leader Penny Mordaunt has said.

He has urged Rishi Sunak not to abandon legislation that would give the government powers to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mordaunt told the BBC the bill had helped persuade the EU to negotiate. She also said any deal must work for all communities in Northern Ireland.

The protocol came into effect in 2021 and aims to ensure free movement of goods across the Irish land border by conducting checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain instead.

However, unionist parties, who support Northern Ireland being part of the UK, oppose the protocol and argue that placing an effective border across the Irish Sea undermines Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

Negotiations between the UK and the European Union to try to resolve issues with the protocol have been going on for more than a year but sources suggest a deal could be sealed early next week.

On Saturday, a source close to Johnson said he believed it would be “a great mistake” to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which many Conservatives see as an important bargaining chip for the UK to gain concessions from the EU.

Mordaunt also suggested the bill had aided negotiations with the bloc.

There has been trepidation and a sense of inevitability about the former PM and Brexit cheerleader getting involved in the arguments around new arrangements for Northern Ireland — and Sunak’s team may not see his intervention in the same light as Mordaunt.

Mordaunt, who also campaigned to leave the EU during the 2016 referendum, told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I think the prime minister would give credit to his predecessors for enabling us to get this far.

“We have the bill… and in part it is because of that that we are now able to have these negotiations and the EU is talking about things that previously it said it wouldn’t talk about.”

She added: “It’s a reminder to the EU of the bar that they have to get over. But ultimately it’s not really about what Boris Johnson or any members of the House of Commons think about a deal. It’s what the people of Northern Ireland think about a deal.”

The bill, which was first introduced by Boris Johnson, is currently paused in Parliament while the UK and EU try to hammer out a new agreement. The BBC understands the EU will not move ahead with a deal unless there is a commitment by the UK to drop the Protocol Bill.

A senior government official has said if issues with the protocol arrangements can be resolved then there will be no need for the bill to go further in Parliament.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Mandelson accused Johnson of trying to “wreck” the protocol, which he agreed as part of the 2019 Brexit withdrawal agreement, to undermine the prime minister.

The Labor peer told Sky News Johnson should “remove himself entirely” from the issue.

Meanwhile, Mordaunt said any deal on the protocol had to work for all communities in Northern Ireland and pass the seven tests set out by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The DUP is preventing a government from being formed in Northern Ireland in protest over the protocol and says its tests must be met for it to end its boycott of Stormont.

There had been some whispers that there was a possibility of doing a deal, even without the support of the DUP, but Mordaunt closed down that idea, saying: “If this deal doesn’t pass those tests, it won’t work, it’s as simple as that.

She added: “What my colleagues might say and what they might do in a hypothetical vote, that is irrelevant unless it works for the whole of Northern Ireland.”

Some government insiders expect a debate and vote on a protocol deal in the House of Commons soon, with Tuesday seen as the most likely day — although the plans are said to remain “fluid”.

Following the latest round of talks on Saturday, Sunak warned an agreement was “by no means done” and said there were still “challenges to work through”.

Labor has said it would support the government in a vote on a protocol deal. However, the prime minister could still face a rebellion by Euroskeptic Tory backbenchers. BBC



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