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Northern Ireland parties Brexit amendment defeated in Commons

The amendment was defeated by 337 to 262 votes (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
The amendment was defeated by 337 to 262 votes (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

An amendment tabled by Northern Ireland parties seeking guarantees businesses would have "unfettered access" to the UK market post-Brexit has been defeated.

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The DUP, SDLP and Alliance sought legal guarantees on the issue, in a move that was also supported by Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists and Northern Ireland business leaders.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, the amendment was defeated in the Commons by 337 votes to 262.

Addressing the DUP's amendments, which included the business amendment, Northern Ireland minister Robin Walker said: "Many of these amendments, I recognise, are focused on securing Northern Ireland's interests in the next phase of the Brexit process and we absolutely recognise the support they have received from across Northern Ireland business and political community.

"If and when the executive is restored, the UK Government will be ready to consider commitments concerning their role in future discussions with the EU and engage with them as we safeguard Northern Ireland's integral place in the UK.

"Now the Government cannot accept any of the amendments to the clauses implementing the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland for a number of reasons."

Under the PM's Brexit deal, Northern Ireland businesses and politicians fear a trade barrier down the Irish Sea could result in increased costs and checks on goods.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson said Mr Walker should go a step further and say he "can't make commitments on behalf of the EU either", which is the "fundamental problem" his party has the Government's Withdrawal Agreement.

"There is no point asserting sovereignty and indicating that Northern Ireland is fully in compliance with the customs territory of the UK, only having asserted such, to hand that power into a joint committee with the EU," he said.

Mr Walker replied: "I think it is very clear from the protocol itself that Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the UK, that we do actually want to make sure that we maintain unfettered access between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. There are powers in the protocol for the Government to do that."

Last month, MPs voted overwhelming in favour of Boris Johnson's Brexit deal, however it has been strongly opposed by the DUP, who feel it will result in Northern Ireland being treated differently than the rest of the UK.

The DUP's Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson called for the Government to maintain unfettered access after Brexit for Northern Ireland to the British market by putting it on the face of the Bill.

Reading a section of the Conservative Party's manifesto relating to the party's commitment to Northern Ireland, Mr Wilson told MPs: "The amendments which we have put forward are designed to be positive, they're designed to ensure that promises which the Government has made are honoured and also the manifesto commitment which the Government has made in relation to Northern Ireland, in which it states it will guarantee the full economic benefits of Brexit.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson

"All of the amendments that we intend to move forward intend to ensure that that promise is delivered on."

Mr Wilson added that his amendments will ensure the "minister must bring forward regulations", that these regulations "ensure that there is unfettered access to the GB market" and "that unfettered access is defined in the Bill".

Criticising the fact that Mr Wilson is the only member of Northern Ireland allowed to speak in this section of the debate, new SDLP MP Claire Hanna said: "This will contribute to the very real feeling that this Brexit, and this form of Brexit, is being enforced on Northern Ireland, who have never given their consent."

She added: "If the Government mean anything they say about protecting Northern Ireland and about unfettered access and about non-tariff barriers, then at a minimum they should accept new clause 55."

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