UK Government has set trajectory for no-deal Brexit, Stormont minister claims

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The UK Government has set a trajectory for a no trade deal Brexit, a Stormont minister has warned.

Junior minister Declan Kearney said Northern Ireland was facing a “perfect storm” as he accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of using the region as a “commodity” in negotiations with the EU.

The Sinn Fein minister was giving evidence to his Assembly scrutiny committee alongside DUP junior minister Gordon Lyons.

The sessions highlighted the political differences at the heart of the executive on Brexit.

While Mr Kearney heavily criticised Mr Johnson’s attempt to use domestic legislation to override elements of the Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Lyons praised the move as a “step forward” in protecting the integrity of the UK’s internal market.

Under the agreement’s Northern Ireland Protocol, the region will remain in the EU single market for goods and administer the EU’s customs code at its ports.

Mr Kearney suggested the Prime Minister could be using the bill as a negotiating tactic to secure further concessions from the EU on disputes that are hampering efforts to secure a wider trade deal. He said that was getting onto “dangerous ground”.

“I think that we’re dealing with a British government at this point in time that has probably set itself on a trajectory to see an a non-agreed outcome – a crashout Brexit,” he said.

He said the Internal Market Bill would undermine the Good Friday peace agreement.

“Whether or not that’s a negotiation tactic, it’s dangerous ground to get onto when you start to mess with that level of political sensitivity and stability,” he said.

“I believe that Boris Johnson and some within his government have been negligent in their approach to the Good Friday Agreement. That’s been a hallmark of every Tory government since 2010 – negligence towards the agreement and oversight for the agreement.”

He added: “I think that this British government is now treating the north and the peace process and our powersharing arrangements here as a commodity in a bigger picture. I think that that’s wrong.”

Mr Lyons provided a markedly different interpretation. He accused those who claimed the Good Friday Agreement was in jeopardy of “scaremongering”.

“I take a very different view on the Internal Market Bill,” he told members of the Executive Office committee.

“I actually believe that it is a step forward. I believe that it actually tries to first of all recognise some of the damage that has been done by the Withdrawal Agreement and the protocol.

Ulster powersharing
DUP junior minister Gordon Lyons insisted the Internal Market Bill represented a “step forward” (Liam McBurney/PA)

He added: “I think people have got themselves very excited about this bill and we’ve heard an awful lot of scaremongering out there about how it affects the Good Friday Agreement, and I just want to put on record today that I think that it’s absolutely wrong for people to do that.

“I’m fed up of Northern Ireland being used as a pawn in all the European negotiations but it’s made worse by some people in regards to what they have said about the Good Friday Agreement and how it damages the Good Friday Agreement.”

Mr Lyons then provided a light-hearted aside when he produced a copy of the Agreement.

“It’s not my own copy, Mr Chairman,” he told SDLP committee chair Colin McGrath.

“Because I lent my own copy to the former Secretary of State Julian Smith during the (restoration of powersharing) talks process and unfortunately he never gave it back to me.

“So next time he’s here, maybe we could ask him about that.”

Referring to Mr Lyons’ remarks at the committee about his document, Mr Smith later tweeted: “It’s out on loan to a few colleagues…”

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