Conor Burns dismisses claim Government acting on protocol after DUP Stormont pledge

Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns has dismissed reports his government is taking action on the protocol because the DUP made a pledge to return to power sharing if it did so.

The UK initiated a plan to override parts of a key Brexit agreement with the European Union, ignoring threats from the bloc about the consequences of unilaterally breaking an international agreement. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tabled the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in a bid to amend the agreement, despite warnings from the EU about the "deeply damaging" impact on relations which many say could result in a trade war. She said the protocol is putting Northern Ireland in a "serious situation" because it is being "treated differently to the rest of the United Kingdom", adding that her Bill is a "reasonable, practical solution".

Mr Burns, asked if the government was acting on a DUP vow to return to devolved government, said they were acting because it was the right thing to do and in the interests of the people of the UK.

"Let me be really clear," he told View From Stormont.

"I was born in Belfast of a nationalist family. I am a Catholic, albeit not a great one. I am openly gay. The idea I am here explaining this to the audience of the United States that we are acting on behalf of the DUP.

"Give me a break.

"We are doing this in the interests of the United Kingdom, in the interests of all people of the UK and in Northern Ireland and we have been so clear with the DUP.

"This is a foreign policy matter, this is the UK talking to the Commission, this is the UK taking legislative action in the House of Commons, in parliament, on behalf of the people of the UK.

"The DUP do not get to arbitrate on what success looks like. The DUP should be back in government, they should be implementing on the direction of the people from the elections, they should be unlocking the potential to spend some £430milllion to help with the cost of living.

"The DUP should be back in government ... we are fixing the protocol because it is the right thing for the UK, not because it is the right thing for the DUP.

The MP said the government's proposals on its changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol were proportionate and within the law.

He said legal advice backed the government's actions and they would publish a summary of that advice.

"We're very confident on the back of the legal advice government has received that this legislation is proportionate, moderate and absolutely legal," said Mr Burns.

"This legislation seeks to protect the Belfast, Good Friday Agreement and the institutions that were borne from it and that is its overriding and principled objective."

He said the legislation was not their "default" position and they wanted to continue to work with the EU on finding agreement but it had almost reached the anniversary when they first said the provisions for enacting Article 16 had been met.

Article 16 allows parts of the protocol to be put aside if it is disrupting everyday life.

"And the fact we didn't do so in July last year we wanted them to take as a palpable demonstration of our good will and our intention to reach a negotiated conclusion," Mr Burns added.

"The sadness for us is that Vice President Šefčovič has not been given the broader mandate he needs in order for us to land that negotiated solution.

"But the door absolutely remains open to the EU to come and talk to us."

Mr Burns said the reality was they were seeing a "vast panoply" of checks on goods coming from GB into NI which will "never see dawn or dusk" in the EU's single market in the Republic.

"And we essentially need to find a way to disaggregate checks, the regulatory regime on goods moving within the UK's internal market.

"There has to be a way to do this sensibly and pragmatically."

He added: "Our responsibility is to the people of Northern Ireland, the people of the UK."

"We will legislate to protect the interests of the Irish Republic, the interests of the EU single market but also the interests of the UK."

The minister is in US to sell the government's protocol proposals.

He dismissed concerns the UK's unilateral move would hamper efforts to get a trade deal with the US.

"The idea we would sacrifice the interests of our own country ... in order to have a trade agreement is fanciful," he added.