DUP’s Wilson rubbishes Brexit claims by Major and Blair

Former prime ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair have united against Boris Johnson's Brexit plans. Credit: PA

The DUP will attempt to amend the Internal Market Bill to ensure the UK sets the rules on state aid in Northern Ireland, according to Westminster Chief Whip Sammy Wilson – who has rubbished claims the Bill will undermine the Belfast Agreement.

The Northern Ireland Protocol sets out that EU state aid rules will apply to commerce.

State aid means a government cannot subsidise a product to allow it to be sold more cheaply in other parts of the EU to the potential detriment of businesses there.

Former prime ministers Sir John Major and Tony Blair have warned the UK’s latest proposals could undermine the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

They have urged MPs to reject the legislation, saying it imperils the peace process, trade negotiations, and the UK’s integrity.

DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said that was “nonsense” though.

He said the Internal Market Bill was “far from perfect”, hence the amendments to be tabled, but added: “The suggestion by the hero of the peace process brigade that the Bill rips apart the Belfast Agreement is complete and utter bunkum without any factual basis.

“They need to explain how making it easier for Northern Ireland to do business with our biggest market undermines the Belfast Agreement.

“They need to explain how Northern Ireland companies having less paperwork undermines the Belfast Agreement.

“They need to explain how our amendment which would ensure the UK sets the rules on state aid in Northern Ireland undermines the Belfast Agreement. Such a tool is vital to help us fend of predatory behaviour from our nearest competitor.”

The Internal Market Bill as published is not the finished product, but it is massive step forward for business in Northern Ireland.

Sammy Wilson, DUP MP

Meanwhile, the Irish Government has dismissed reports that the EU could block goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said there may be “limited checks” on goods coming from Great Britain into the region because there is an agreement to prevent the need for physical infrastructure on the Irish border.

The measures were envisaged to stop goods passing from England, Scotland or Wales into the Republic of Ireland via Northern Ireland tariff-free if no wider agreement is struck between the EU and UK.

There is no blockade proposed. That is the kind of inflammatory language coming from Number 10 which is spin and not the truth.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney

At present the UK is part of the European single market, with jointly agreed regulations and standards across the continent.

Post-Brexit, the UK Government wants to continue to have a joint market across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, known as an internal market.

That means regulations around matters like food standards and animal welfare being set in the UK instead of Brussels.

Northern Ireland had been due to remain part of the bloc for trade purposes unless a wider commerce deal was struck with the EU.

That means Northern Ireland must continue to follow the standards of Brussels to avoid tariffs on all-island trade and keep the free-flowing border in goods with the Republic of Ireland, its EU neighbour, open.

The European Commission has given the UK until the end of the month to drop legislation enabling ministers to override the provisions in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman, however, reiterated the Government’s position that the provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill remained “critical” to the preservation of the Northern Ireland peace process.

On Sunday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke to European Council President Charles Michel, who leads the EU’s heads of states.

Mr Martin said the EU27 were united in calling for full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement/Northern Ireland Protocol and noted: “International law and agreements must be honoured.”

Meanwhile, Downing Street’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost countered his EU counterpart’s dismissal of Boris Johnson’s warnings on food exports from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Lord Frost, saying he wanted to “state a few facts”, tweeted that the EU “knows perfectly well” the situation on food standards rules and said the bloc gives dozens of countries third-party listing “without any sort of commitment about the future”.

He added: “Yet it has been made clear to us in the current talks that there is no guarantee of listing us. I am afraid it has also been said to us explicitly in these talks that if we are not listed, we will not be able to move food to Northern Ireland.

“The EU’s position is that listing is needed for Great Britain only, not Northern Ireland. So if GB were not listed, it would be automatically illegal for NI to import food products from GB.”