Share plans for NI protocol changes with region’s leaders, Labour says

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Labour has called for the Government to share its proposed changes to the Northern Ireland protocol with leaders in the region.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh asked why Brussels had seen the legal text on the changes the Government want to make to the protocol, but politicians in Northern Ireland are “still completely in the dark”.

She called for talks about the future of the protocol to be moved to Belfast to give Northern Ireland’s politicians a “seat at the table”.

Speaking in the the Commons, Ms Haigh said: “Does he (Brandon Lewis) accept it is not sustainable for the Secretary of State to say to the people of Northern Ireland ‘we have decided what is best for you take it or leave it’?

“Will he therefore move the talks to Belfast and give Northern Ireland’s politicians a seat at the table?”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (Steve Parsons/PA)
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (Steve Parsons/PA)

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis replied: “Politicians in Northern Ireland are involved not just obviously here in this House but also just yesterday myself and Lord Frost engaged with both the First and deputy First Minister which we are doing on a regular, pretty much weekly basis to engage with them.

“We have also engaged with Stormont all the way through this.”

On Labour’s call for proposed changes to be shared with leaders in the region, Mr Lewis said: “We gave the EU our word it would be done in a confidential manner to allow that space for those private negotiations and discussions to go ahead with the EU, and I think it is right we do that and we do those negotiations in a proper business-like way.”

The Government would also not confirm reports in The Guardian newspaper that Mr Lewis could directly instruct health trusts to provide abortion services in the region.

Abortion laws in Northern Ireland were liberalised in 2019 following legislation passed by Westminster at a time when the power-sharing government in the region had collapsed.

Anti-abortione and pro choice activists take part in a photocall in the grounds of Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)
Anti-abortion and pro-choice activists take part in a photocall in the grounds of Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Lewis has directed ministers in Belfast to take the steps necessary to deploy abortion services across the region, but Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has yet to centrally commission the services.

The Guardian newspaper said it understands Mr Lewis could explore working directly with health trusts to implement the abortion provision if Stormont does not ensure they do so.

Shadow Northern Ireland minister Alex Davies-Jones said in the Commons: “We are clear that the cycle of inaction must end and welcome the secretary of state’s determination on this.

“But it is a serious matter that the legal obligations are still being ignored.

“So would the minister confirm the report today in The Guardian that he intends to instruct trusts to commission services?

“Will that require primary legislation?

“And when will he act?”

But Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns did not clarify the situation either way.

He said: “The secretary of state is leading on this and I’m sure he would be delighted to talk to her.”

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