Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis insisted the legislation won't break international law - but stopped short of committing to publishing the legal advice the Cabinet has received
Legislation giving ministers power to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol will not breach international law, Brandon Lewis has insisted.
The Northern Ireland Secretary has said the new legislation, to be introduced in Parliament on Monday, would be “lawful” and “correct”.
However, the claim has been challenged by both the Labour Party and Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald, who said Mr Lewis was “talking through his hat”.
The government has confirmed it will table the legislation to override parts of the protocol, which was jointly agreed by the UK and EU as part of the Withdrawal Agreement to keep the Irish land border free-flowing.
The arrangements instead require regulatory checks and customs declarations on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Unionists in Northern Ireland are vociferously opposed to the protocol, claiming it has undermined the region’s place within the United Kingdom.
The DUP has blocked the formation of a new power-sharing government at Stormont following last month’s Assembly election in protest at the protocol.
The Bill due to come before Parliament will see the government move without the consent of the EU to change the terms of the international treaty in a bid to reduce the checks on the movement of goods across the Irish Sea.
The EU has made clear that such a step would represent a breach of international law and could prompt retaliatory action from the bloc.
Asked if the new legislation will be in breach of the law, Mr Lewis told ITV News: "We're going to be delivering this within international law and putting at absolute primacy the Belfast Good Friday Agreement in all three strands - not just north, south, but east, west, and obviously our focus will be on restoring the institution of Stormont."
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He appeared to sidestep a question on whether the government will publish the legal advice it has received, Mr Lewis replied: "We will set out the government's legal position on that so people can see our logic and understanding of that and I'm confident that people will be able to see, as I say, that it is within international law."
Mr Lewis accused the EU of being “disingenuous” about offering flexibilities on the protocol.
He told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “What they’ve been saying consistently across the media and have been reported as saying is that they’re offering flexibilities. Well, they’re not.
“What the EU are offering is some flexibility based on a fully-implemented protocol. That would be, actually, worse than the situation we’ve got today.”
He added: “So, I do think they’ve been disingenuous in suggesting they’re being flexible when in fact they’ve not shown the flexibility that’s required to resolve these issues for the people of Northern Ireland.”
'Governments should be rule makers not law breakers,' Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told ITV News that although she has not seen the legislation, she said it appears as though the government plans to break international law.
"The way to resolve problems with the protocol is to negotiate with out partners in the European Union, rather than to unilaterally break international law," she said.
"It's becoming something of a habit for this government to break the law, whether it be parties or international treaties... governments should be rule makers not law breakers."
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald insisted that the protocol is working in its current form.
She added: “What the Tory government is proposing to do in breaching international law is to create huge, huge damage to the northern economy, to the Irish economy.
“They propose to breach international law and are on an agenda of undermining, attacking and damaging the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mrs McDonald continued: “Brandon Lewis is talking through his hat, and not for the first time.
“Brandon Lewis should know, the Tory government should know, that where there are issues to be resolved with the protocol, issues of smoothing out its application, there are mechanisms through which that can happen.
“There is a willingness here, a willingness to engage by the European Commission.
“But the British government has refused to engage, has not been constructive, has sought a destructive path and is now proposing to introduce legislation that will undoubtedly breach international law.
“And against the expressed democratic wishes of people in the north of Ireland who went to the polls, who made their democratic decision and who have returned a majority of members that support the protocol.”