‘Time to take a stand!’ Boris urged to get tough on EU over hard Irish border threat

Ben Habib slams ‘unlawful’ Northern Ireland protocol

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Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib was speaking after European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie insisted the UK needed to meet its obligations in accordance with the Northern Ireland protocol. Mr Ferrie was himself speaking in response to the decision by Gordon Lyons, Northern Ireland’s minister for agriculture and a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politician, to stop work on permanent facilities to check goods arriving from Great Britain, as well as halting the recruitment of inspectors.

Mr Habib, a vociferous critic of the Government’s post-Brexit policy towards Northern Ireland, told Express.co.uk: “It is now for unionists in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to stand up against our own Government and the EU in order to protect our precious union.”

He added: “Gordon Lyons is absolutely correct to refuse to build permanent structures for customs checks in Northern Ireland.

“These would only be needed if the Northern Ireland Protocol were legal. It is not.”

Mr Habib explained: “It breaches the Act of Union 1800, it breaches the Northern Ireland act 1998, it breaches the Belfast agreement and it breaches the Article 50 process of leaving the EU.
“It also fundamentally undermines all Conservative Party Brexit manifesto pledges made at the last general election.”

In a further swipe at Mr Johnson, he said: “The PM promised the country would leave the EU as one country, he broke this most important promise.”

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The Northern Ireland protocol is aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But critics have said requirements for additional paperwork and checks on goods travelling between the British mainland and Northern Ireland have instead resulted in a border down the Irish Sea.

Permanent facilities are due to be built at Belfast, Larne, Warrenpoint and Foyle ports in Northern Ireland, but these projects are still in the design and preparatory phases.

Explaining his decision on Friday, Mr Lyons said: “I’ve just let executive colleagues know that today I instructed my department to halt work on a range of issues relating to work at the ports.

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“This is in and around a number of areas, first of all further infrastructure, any further infrastructure builds; the additional recruitment of staff; and also the charging at the ports.”

The move was in response to the “practical difficulties” caused by the Protocol, Mr Lyons explained.

He was also concerned about what will happen when the current grace periods which currently govern protocol bureaucracy end at the start of April.

He added: “We don’t know what the movement of retail goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland is going to look like, we don’t have the support in place through the digital assistance scheme yet either, and all of the SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) issues around the end of the grace period are just so uncertain and it’s real nightmare for us and it’s going to be causing us an awful lot of problems.”

Speaking today, Mr Ferrie said: “We expect the same commitment when it comes to the UK government’s obligations under the protocol regarding the permanent facilities that need to be put in place by the middle of 2021, in line with the protocol and also in line with the Joint Committee decisions from last December.”

Stormont’s legal advisers have been asked for an opinion on the decision, and Mr Lyons may be required to proposals to the Northern Ireland Executive led by First Minister Arlene Foster.

One DUP politician, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Politico website: “I am sure the ever-cautious civil servants will try to find ways to ignore his instruction.

“But he does have good arguments for the decision he made, so I think he can make them stand.”

Speaking on Monday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said it was “a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and we obviously remain in close contact with them.”

He added: “Goods, including food, continue to flow through ports in Northern Ireland with the existing, interim agri-foods facilities in place.”

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