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Secretary of State accused of taking people of Northern Ireland for 'fools' over Irish Sea border

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, has been accused of taking people in Northern Ireland for “fools” around the Brexit Protocol.

Brandon Lewis was taking an urgent question in the House of Commons on Wednesday after the UK Government previously acted to allow businesses here more time to adapt to post-Brexit trading rules.

The Labour MP Conor McGinn asked Mr Lewis if he thought the people of Northern Ireland were “stupid” in relation to the Irish Sea border.

“They pretended it didn't exist, but said that even if it did, sure it will have no impact anyway. And now they're saying, well actually, there is one but we can just ignore it,” he said.

“Will [Mr Lewis] stop taking people for fools and start showing the responsible leadership required to sort this out?"

Responding, the Secretary of State said the Government had delivered “unfettered” access between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The decision to take unilateral action around the Protocol was seen, according to the shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh, as showing the UK Government “cannot be trusted”.

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“It raises serious questions about whether the Government has a strategy at all to deal with the complex realities facing Northern Ireland,” she said.

"Provocation is not a strategy and a stop gap is not a solution."

Meanwhile, while unionists in the House of Commons welcomed the steps taken around the extension to trading grace periods. They also called for “radical steps”, after the DUP’s Gregory Campbell said “resentment” had built up among unionism in Northern Ireland.

“Does he grasp fully the degree of resentment that exists in unionism in Northern Ireland?” questioned Mr Campbell.

“The consent for the unionist community has now diminished to the point where radical steps and radical actions have to be taken by his government, as a matter of urgency.”

The SDLP leader Colm Eastwood said the decision had left the UK’s reputation “in tatters”.

“Last week the Secretary of State rushed out an announcement unilaterally on budget day, that his government would once again break international law.” he said.

“Given that governments across Europe and politicians in Capitol Hill and in the White House are furious about this move, is the Secretary of State at all concerned that this Government’s reputation is in tatters across the world?”

The European Commission is preparing to take legal action against the Government, accusing it of breaching the terms of the protocol, which governs trade to Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

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