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Boris Johnson has been accused of wanting to “get Brexit done” while ignoring the important details in the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol has caused disruption to trade and the movement of consumer goods since the Brexit transition period ended on 1 January, with Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster complaining people can’t even buy a potted plan from Great Britain at the moment.
It has led to criticism of the prime minister, who was elected in 2019 on the premise of “getting Brexit done” – a phrase he repeated hundreds of times during that election campaign.
Foster, speaking to ITV’s Peston show on Wednesday, said that ahead of Brexit, Northern Ireland had been promised “unfettered access” from Great Britain, but “the opposite has happened”.
The protocol, with its requirement for regulatory and customs checks processes on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, has caused disruption, with unionists worried it is driving an economic wedge between the two.
Turning to Johnson and his famous election slogan, Foster said: “The greater emphasis at that time was ‘getting Brexit done’ and regrettably I think they thought ‘we will get Brexit done’ and return to deal with the issues of the protocol.
“For goodness sake, you can’t even get a potted plant from GB into NI at the moment” @DUPleader tells @Peston that the push from Downing Street to get Brexit done meant they sidelined the “fundamental” issue of protecting the Union. #Peston pic.twitter.com/8OyFa30SE5
— Peston (@itvpeston) February 10, 2021
“But the issues of the protocol are fundamental not just to trade… consumers can’t get goods, for goodness sake. You can’t even get a potted plant from Great Britain into Northern Ireland at the moment, which is absolutely incredible.”
Nick Timothy, who was joint chief-of-staff to Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, also levelled the same criticism at Johnson.
“The logic of the government was to get Brexit done,” he told Peston. “To get the agreement signed, and worry about the protocol later.”
However, the EU has also come under fire, with unionists accusing the bloc of not listening to its concerns about the protocol.
The DUP’s Westminster leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, said European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic’s call for fuller implementation of the protocol indicated the EU wants to increase the problems rather than find solutions.
“They don’t recognise the difficulties that the Northern Ireland Protocol is causing for our economy,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.
However, Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard accused the DUP of over-hyping the trading problems.
He told the same programme: “I think we need to get away from this idea that we’re in some sort of catastrophic trading situation – we’re not. Most businesses are coping.”
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was set to meet with Sefcovic on Thursday.
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