How Tories changed their tune on Northern Ireland protocol

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA</span>
Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

From the prime minister down, Conservative MPs have been lining up to demand changes to the Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Related: Brexit: what is the Northern Ireland row about?

Lord Frost, the UK minister leading on issues around the new relationship with the EU, has said the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland had proven unsustainable as a result of the impact of the customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

But it was a deal that Frost negotiated and a majority of MPs backed last year. Here is what some of the most vocal critics of the protocol are saying today - and what they said then.

Boris Johnson, prime minister

What he said then: “It ensures for those living and working alongside the border that there will be no visible or practical changes to their lives: they can carry on as before.”

What he says now: “If it looks as though the EU is going to be very dogmatic about it and we continue to [be in an] absurd situation so you can’t bring in rose bushes with British soil into Northern Ireland, you can’t bring British sausages into Northern Ireland, then frankly I’m going to, we’ll have to take further steps.”

Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader

What he said then: “If there is anything about this arrangement [the withdrawal agreement bill] that we have not now debated, thrashed to death, I would love to know what it is.”

What he says now: “The reality is that the protocol is simply not working. These are not teething problems. We have already seen companies that normally ship to Northern Ireland now saying publicly that they will not bother to do so any more if it is too difficult. We are also seeing diversion: some supermarkets and others are talking about depots in southern Ireland rather than in mainland GB.”

Ranil Jayawardena, trade minister

What he said then: “We will be an independent United Kingdom – and this is a fundamental point – because, unlike the last withdrawal agreement, this deal will mean that Northern Ireland will remain in the UK’s customs territory, so it will not be for foreign powers to decide the future of any part of our country. This new deal that Boris has achieved – against all the odds – will bring an end to the uncertainty and division.”

What he says now: “It is wrong that anyone should be threatening the British sausage. We will stand up for the British sausage and no one will ever be able to destroy it.”

Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP

What he said then: “If you had offered me what we’ve got here back in 2016 I wouldn’t have snapped your hand off, I’d have had your arms and your legs as well.”

What he says now: “It’s just clear the EU wants to annex Northern Ireland away from us, which is what they always wanted… Ultimately I think we’re being stitched up by the European Union and it’s had a very bad effect on the DUP - quite rightly.”

Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP

What he said then: “NOW we can stop banging on about Europe!” and “the withdrawal agreement represents a compromise Brexit, which we now all must live with, and all can do so because it is a good compromise.”

What he says now: “If the EU insists on an unreasonable interpretation of the withdrawal agreement, the UK must stand ready to repudiate it. I hope it is not necessary, but if it is the only way to achieve UK prosperity and the kind of sovereign independence which is the democratic right of any nation recognised under the UN charter, then so be it. And most other nations would respect us for that.”

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