SNP blasts Northern Ireland Protocol changes as ‘unthinkable’
Neil Gray, Holyrood’s minister for Europe, has written to the Foreign Secretary asking for urgent talks on reports UK ministers are preparing legislation giving them sweeping powers to unilaterally suspend elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement.
In the letter to Liz Truss, Mr Gray called for discussions on the proposals and said the Scottish Government would be “strongly opposed” to them.
“There would be no justification for such unilateral action at the best of times, but it is unthinkable right now for at least two reasons,” said the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts.
“First, taking such unilateral steps would clearly run the risk of further escalation and possible countermeasures by the EU, which could be highly damaging for the Scottish economy as well as wider EU relations.
“This cannot be right at a time of an escalating cost-of-living crisis. The damage being caused by Brexit already is bad enough without piling on more misery.
“Secondly, given Russia’s unprovoked, barbaric war in Ukraine, this is a time for European nations to work together in our common interests.”
The letter comes after Boris Johnson said on Friday the UK is ready to take measures to “fix” the deal with the EU governing post-Brexit trading arrangements with Northern Ireland.
“The protocol really does not command the confidence of a large, large component of the population in Northern Ireland. We have to address that, we have to fix that,” Mr Johnson told a news conference in New Delhi.
“We think we can do it with some very simple and reasonable steps.
“We have talked repeatedly to our friends and partners in the EU. We will continue to talk to them.
“But, as I have said many times now, we don’t rule out taking steps now if those are necessary.”
The move by the British Government, which is likely to inspire anger among EU leaders, comes less than two weeks before the Northern Ireland Assembly election on May 5.
Unionist parties in the region have consistently declared their opposition to the protocol, which they argue cuts off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Labour’s Peter Kyle condemned the reported plan, and questioned how Mr Johnson can negotiate a trade deal with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the same time.
The shadow Northern Ireland secretary said: “This is absolutely astonishing and incredibly damaging.
“Boris Johnson negotiated, his team drafted the Northern Ireland Protocol; they presented it to the EU, they negotiated it into the deal.
“It doesn’t work as well as it can do, that’s why the Labour policy is, you build on it, we can improve the protocol, we can smooth it, and we can do so without breaking the law and breaking our international treaty we signed with the EU.
“If we just recklessly pull out of it unilaterally, how will any other country in the world sign a deal with us and think that we will honour it?
“How will prime minister Modi react today when Boris Johnson asks for a trade deal if he is pulling out unilaterally of the last trade deal he signed?”
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