Lewis told changes to Northern Ireland Protocol ‘must be significant’

·3-min read

Brandon Lewis has been told that any changes made to the Northern Ireland Protocol must be significant to address “commercial discrimination” against businesses and customers.

In an appearance before the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, the Secretary of State said it is reasonable to take the view that changes will be made to the terms of the Brexit deal as it is “not sustainable” in its current form.

But DUP MP Ian Paisley said that any changes needed to be substantive, and could not be “tinkerings”.

Mr Lewis made his comments after outgoing DUP leader Edwin Poots said he had received a personal assurance from the UK Government that significant changes will be made to the Protocol.

In a separate interview, Mr Poots has warned of serious loyalist paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland this summer if Irish Sea trade barriers are not removed.

The UK Government and the EU are locked in a dispute over the implementation of the Protocol, the part of the Brexit divorce deal aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland.

Appearing before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Mr Lewis was asked what he had told Mr Poots about alterations to the Protocol.

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Ian Paisley warned that businesses in Northern Ireland are facing ‘commercial discrimination’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

He said: “We are very clear that the current position of the Protocol is not sustainable, it is causing issues for businesses and consumers and citizens in Northern Ireland and we need to rectify that.

“Ultimately for us there is a very core point about the Protocol, which is about protecting and respecting the UK’s internal market and not disrupting everyday lives of people in communities.

“We want to get that rectified and we are determined to do so, so I think it is reasonable for anybody to take the view that we have said that there will be changes because there has to be – the current status quo is not sustainable.”

DUP MP Ian Paisley referred to correspondence sent from Stormont Economy Minister Paul Frew to the committee.

He said: “It is saying they have significant concerns about the distinct possibility that firms in GB will become dissuaded from engaging with Northern Ireland markets when faced by regulatory barriers.

“He goes on to say that the UK Internal Markets Act does nothing to protect against commercial discrimination. These are very strong words from the Department of Economy in Northern Ireland that businesses are now facing commercial discrimination.”

Mr Lewis responded: “I think it highlights the points I made around the sustainability of the Protocol in its current format and how it is being implemented.

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Outgoing DUP leader Edwin Poots has warned that the Northern Ireland Protocol could spark paramilitary violence (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We’ve got to get back to that situation where the products that are available in Northern Ireland are the products you’ve always been able to access and they are not unavailable because of anything other than consumer choice.”

Mr Paisley said: “I don’t think it should be lost on anyone as to why there is a requirement for significant changes, and I hope that those changes, which you are tempting us with, and putting in front of us, that they are actually significant and they will not be tinkerings, but they will be changes which address this discrimination aspect.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show, outgoing DUP leader Mr Poots warned that tensions over the Protocol meant the paramilitaries may get involved if violence was to flare again in the summer.

“I fear that if things don’t change over the course of the summertime, that perhaps some older people who are involved in paramilitaries will get involved.”