DUP minister Poots warns MPs against rebelling over Protocol Bill

A DUP minister has warned MPs thinking of voting against the government’s plans to scrap parts of the NI Protocol that they are damaging the peace process.

he new legislation to alter significant parts of the post-Brexit deal between the UK and the EU will undergo a second reading later on Monday.

Agriculture minister Edwin Poots reminded politicians that Stormont is “not operational because of what has happened and will not be operational until we get this fixed”.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, he added: “If the EU wants to ensure that they are protecting the Good Friday Agreement, then they need to step up to the plate and ensure they protect the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

“Any conservative who has any notion of using this, of having a go at Boris Johnson are doing the same as the EU is doing in terms of damaging the peace process and the institutions in Northern Ireland.”

The government wants to make it easier for some goods to flow from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The Foreign Secretary has said the protocol is undermining the peace process, but the EU opposes the move which it claims is a breach of international law.

Liz Truss is expected to tell MPs the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill includes “solutions” in four key areas: “burdensome customs processes, inflexible regulation, tax and spend discrepancies, and democratic governance issues”.

The EU has already launched legal action against the UK government with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic warning further measures may follow if the bill proceeds.

The dispute could ultimately lead to a trade war, with tariffs or even the suspension of the entire Brexit deal between the UK and EU.

Although last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the response to the bill has been “much more muted” than he expected.

In tandem with the passage of the bill through Parliament, the Government has launched an “engagement process” with businesses.

Former DUP leader Edwin Poots was asked if Monday’s reading brings us any closer to Stormont being restored.

“In a sense yes, because if it doesn’t get through then I think… the future looks bleak,” he replied.

The MLA and executive minister was also asked about Brandon Lewis’ “threat” to cut pay.

“I’m working six days a week most weeks so personally I have no issue about taking pay,” he said.

“But if Brandon Lewis wants to cut pay he can bring it on. That’s entirely up to him.

“That will no bearing on the position we are adopting. None whatsoever.

“We are standing on a principle and therefore pay will not be an issue from achieving what we set out to achieve.”

However Mr Poots pointed out that the Secretary of State was not as quick to act in the past.

“He didn’t cut it on Sinn Fein previously… and they took the Assembly down for three years over an issue which proved not to be an issue.

“Whenever Sir Patrick Coghlin actually looked at RHI issue there was no corruption around the political element of it.. there was no justification for it.”

Mr Poots warned inaction over the Protocol will be costly for everyone.

“We have millions of pounds of goods coming in that require checks, whenever those grace periods go and whenever trader support services go that will add to the cost-of-living crisis considerably,” he said.

“We are fighting for every consumer in Northern Ireland – nationalist, unionist and other – to ensure that we get a fair deal.”

Meanwhile Sinn Fein MP John Finucane described the bill as “shameful” as he accused the British government of being “tone deaf”.

“People do not have the luxury of waiting to see what plays out in the machinations of the Tory party’s wranglings – and we see that very publicly,” he said.

“People’s bills are getting higher and higher – whether it’s the price of petrol at the forecourts, whether its energy companies announcing higher bills, whether its another story coming out about our health service – we need action and we need it now.

“People do not have the luxury to wait and see when one party will decide to go back into an executive and actually deliver for people on the issues that matter.”

The north Belfast representative urged the British government to negotiate a solution to the Protocol and refocus efforts on restoring Stormont.

“My understanding is that they have a very willing partner in the European Commission, but they need to engage and unilateral action is not the way forward to achieve that,” Mr Finucane said.

The MP also weighed on MLA pay which he said is not being prioritised by Brandon Lewis.

“We see a very self-serving British government at present which is more interested in short term survival than what the people want here,” Mr Finucane said.

“In principle I think its untenable for MLAs to be paid for the work they are unable to do.

“What we hear from Brandon Lewis again is rather vague.

“This shouldn’t cause much controversy but he’s man who has very little credibility here now.

“It seems to be an announcement that there’s going to be an announcement in the future.”

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