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Alliance and DUP MPs clash as Irish Sea border row intensifies

Lockhart accused of 'desperate attempt' to shift blame for impact of Brexit Protocol


Hitting back: Graffiti in east Belfast

Hitting back: Graffiti in east Belfast

Stephen Farry

Stephen Farry


Hitting back: Graffiti in east Belfast

Alliance MP Stephen Farry hit back last night at DUP criticism of his party over the controversial Brexit Protocol, saying they were "rolling up their sleeves" to mitigate disruption to commerce between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr Farry was responding to Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart, who yesterday said the Protocol and the Irish Sea border were the result of "scaremongering" by Alliance, SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Irish Government during the EU negotiations.

The Protocol keeps us in the EU's single market for goods and also means EU customs rules will be enforced at local ports.

This requires new checks and processes for goods entering from other parts of the UK, effectively creating a trade border.

"Faced now with the consequences of their actions, the Alliance Party seek to downplay and dismiss the serious impact their Protocol is having on businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland," Ms Lockhart said.

"Naomi Long arrogantly dismisses those who are identifying problems resulting from the Protocol as engaging in 'Project Fear'.

"Tell that to the haulier with lorries stuck at the port in Scotland, and is incurring additional costs running to tens of thousands of pounds in one week alone.

"Tell that to the mother who can't source baby formula to meet their little one's health needs.

"These very real consequences are what the Alliance Party argued for."

But Mr Farry rejected the DUP attack as a "desperate attempt" to deny responsibility for the party's role in pushing for withdrawal from the EU.

"This is just the latest iteration of increasing desperate attempts from the DUP to deny the huge mistakes they have made over Brexit," the North Down MP said.

"Alliance has always understood the damage that Brexit would bring to Northern Ireland.

"The DUP rejected every opportunity to choose a softer Brexit. Alliance is on record consistently from 2019 as expressing our concerns over the Protocol.

"We voted against the Withdrawal Agreement in January 2020, as other alternatives existed. But no other options are left but to get the Protocol to work.

"While the DUP are playing the politics of delusion and distraction, we are rolling up our sleeves and working through the issues within the system."

He was speaking at the end of a week that saw unionist anger over the implementation of the Protocol intensify.

On Thursday DUP MP Ian Paisley attacked Prime Minister Boris Johnson, accusing him of being in danger of showing he was after all a "buffoon" over his handling of the situation. And Stormont DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots warned that if the three-month grace period for supermarkets to adapt to the new rules was not extended, then they won't be able to supply hospitals and schools with food in a few months.

"Seriously, are we going to have a situation where our schools are not able to feed the children at school, that hospitals are not able to feed their patients?" Mr Poots told the BBC.

However, both the Departments of Education and Health said they had not experienced any major disruption to food supplies.

The rising political temperature comes amid fears the UK's relationship with the Joe Biden administration in the US could be damaged if Mr Johnson triggers a safety mechanism in the Protocol as a result of the trade disruption.

Article 16 allows the EU or the UK to "unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures" if the Protocol leads to "serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist", or if there is a diversion of trade.

The Protocol has been supported by the EU and the incoming President Biden administration in Washington DC, as it is seen as a way of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Conservative MP Simon Hoare, who chairs the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster, said: "[Triggering the article] would do huge damage to the Good Friday Agreement... and damage the relationship between our country and the US."

The Prime Minister said this week he would not hesitate to invoke the safeguarding measure if he believed the problems with the Protocol were "disproportionate".

Belfast Telegraph