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Brandon Lewis rejects SDLP call to delay Brexit

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Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has dismissed a call in the Commons from the SDLP for an extension to the Brexit transition period amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Lewis told MPs: "(The) best way we can give certainty and confirmation for business is to follow through and deliver on our promise to make sure we leave (the EU) and have everything in place for the end of December this year."

His comments came as MPs called on the government to agree an extension while Covid-19 is brought under control.

Speaking during Northern Ireland questions, SDLP Foyle MP Colum Eastwood asked: "Given all that is happening right now, is it surely not the time to begin to agree to a transition period extension so that we can finally get a proper agreement around Brexit, because this (leaving the EU) isn't possible to do, in our view, at this time?"

Mr Lewis responded: "First of all, there is no reason why the (European) Commission should be requiring a permanent presence in Belfast to monitor the implementation of the protocol.

"We are focused on and determined to ensure we fulfil all of our obligations to deliver on the protocol and, no, I think that the best way we can give certainty and confirmation for business is to follow through and deliver on our promise to make sure we leave and have everything in place for the end of December this year."

East Renfrewshire SNP MP Kirsten Oswald also raised a query about the Brexit transition period, asking: "With Covid-19 consuming so much effort internationally, does the Secretary of State not agree that the EU simply won't indulge further UK Government brinkmanship on transition?

"The resulting cliff edge will be a step too far for many Northern Irish businesses, so why is his government pushing ahead with its reckless timetable despite widespread support across the political divide for an extension?"

Mr Lewis replied: "I have to say, I don't recognise her reference to widespread support. (There's) a very clear position for the British public - we stated in just December last year - to see things done so that we, as a country, can move forward.

"It's in both our interest and the EU's interest to be ready to move forward in January 2021.

"The best certainty that I think we can give business, and we're focused on giving business, is that unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses with the rest of the UK. We will do that through the Northern Ireland protocol."

Belfast Telegraph