Brexit blunder: Boris Johnson ‘dug a hole and jumped in’ over Northern Ireland trade pact, says Lord Hague

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Brexit blunder: Boris Johnson ‘dug a hole and jumped in’ over Northern Ireland trade pact, says Lord Hague
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A Brexit blunder by Boris Johnson’s government led it to “dig a hole and jump into it” over Northern Ireland’s trading arrangements, former Tory leader Lord Hague said on Tuesday.

He stressed that this “original error” by the UK government, to agree to a border down the Irish Sea, and the “rigid position” now being adopted by Brussels meant the crisis would be “very hard” to resolve.

He also warned that the Prime Minister faces a “huge battle” to get the deeply controversial Northern Ireland Bill through Parliament and that he should tell the Democratic Unionist Party that he will only risk it if it agrees to go back into government at Stormont.

The legislation would allow the UK to unilaterally tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol which Mr Johnson signed just over two years ago to ram through the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The pact avoided a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland but created one down the Irish Sea.

It effectively kept Northern Ireland in the EU single market and put up trade barriers with the rest of the UK, sparking anger among the unionist community.

Lord Hague stressed these problems were all “forseeable” and the “best model of Brexit” was one put forward by Theresa May as Prime Minister which had closer ties with the European Union and a “backstop” arrangement over Northern Ireland.

“But that of course was voted down in Parliament...and Boris Johnson came in instead with a different solution that included this,” the peer told Times Radio.

“The Government have dug their own hole here and jumped into it, along with the DUP.

“They are in the hole and they have the DUP saying ‘we won’t form a government in Northern Ireland’ and the EU being pretty unreasonable on their side, saying ‘we won’t change at all’ the negotating mandate that we started out with even though the UK is putting forward some perfectly sensible proposals.

“The only solution to this is some compromise on all sides.”

He added: “The Government should make very clear to the DUP that they are only proceeding with all of this in Parliament, which is going to be a huge battle in Parliament over the next year, if the DUP are going to go back into government in Northern Ireland.”

He also accused Brussels of intransigence and of saying “we won’t really meet you half way” or properly look at the proposals being put forward to resolve the stand-off.

“In Northern Ireland, you can’t really do that, this is a very, very delicate matter,” he added.

“It’s a rigid position in the EU and an original error on the UK side and this is a situation now that is very hard to solve.”

The new NI bill creates a framework to allow the UK government to introduce changes in four areas covering customs and agri-food safety checks, regulation, subsidy controls and the role of the European Court of Justice.

Ministers claim it is compatible with international law under the “doctrine of necessity” which allows obligations in treaties to be set aside under “certain, very exceptional, limited conditions”.

But Ireland’s premier Micheal Martin has accused the UK government of “reneging on an international treaty” and branded its actions as a “new low point” in the expectation that democratic nations will abide by international agreements.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said the EU viewed the UK government’s actions with “significant concern” and that it would consider what steps to take next.

As well as re-starting infringement proceedings against the UK, he said the EU would also look at launching further legal action to protect the integrity of the EU single market.

He said the access of Northern Ireland businesses to that single market was now “at risk” while the UK’s action had undermined the trust necessary for the operation of its post-Brexit trade deal with Brussels.

“Unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust,” he said.

“Our aim will always be to secure the implementation of the protocol. Our reaction to unilateral action by the UK will reflect that aim and will be proportionate.”

However, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted on Tuesday morning that there is “absolutely no reason” why the EU should be angered by the controversial plans to override the Northern Ireland Protocol.

She told Times Radio: “Our solution doesn’t make the EU any worse off. We continue to protect the single market, we’re supplying the EU with data, we’ve got strong enforcement to make sure companies aren’t violating the rules.

“So there is absolutely no reason why the EU should react in a negative way to what we’re doing.”

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