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'Unionists can get rid of protocol': Rees-Mogg

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Jacob Rees-Mogg

Jacob Rees-Mogg

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Jacob Rees-Mogg

Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg has said that if unionist MLAs join forces they can get rid of the NI Protocol.

But he said they will have to wait until the next Assembly elections and urged them not to bring down Stormont before then.

Rees-Mogg, who is Leader of the House of Commons, said: "The unionists, if they unite on this, are able to get rid of the protocol.

"It has to command a majority in the Assembly in, is it 2024?

"And so this is very important, if the unionist parties are against the protocol then they will be able to get rid of it if they unite in elections and are able to have a fair majority, because it's not a cross-community vote.

"Interestingly, it not being a normal Assembly vote with requirements for cross-community support was a requirement of the pro-Europeans rather than the Brexiteers in the negotiations. So that's an important caveat.

"If they turn against the protocol, they will be within their power to get rid of it in not too many years and that's important, that's very significant and an interesting point for the European Union to bear in mind.

"Because it's got to realise if it wants the protocol to work, it's got to ensure that the unionists remain onside with it.

"And I think it's more to them than it is to us, because don't forget it was the European Union who said 'no hard border, no hard border, no hard border' and then implemented a hard border when it felt like it.

"That's fundamental but they played ducks and drakes with Article 16 and the unionists have noted that."

Two weeks ago former first minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said unionists had to either "suck it up" or resist and pull down the institutions.

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Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson

And last week the DUP, UUP and TUV announced a legal bid to challenge the NI Protocol, with former MEP Ben Habib and former Labour MP Kate Hoey also backing judicial review proceedings.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said they were committed to challenging the NI Protocol "in the courts, in Parliament, in Stormont and in Brussels" claiming it "drove a coach and horses" through both the Act of Union and the Good Friday Agreement.

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Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

But Mr Rees-Mogg, a guest at a DUP fundraiser in Ballymena two years ago, counselled against collapsing Stormont if the court case fails.

He said: "I think unionists parties, as they're showing with this legal action, have the ability to work together - and if they work together they may offer a more attractive electoral proposition.

"In which case if they can win a majority in Stormont then they can vote down the protocol.

"And it would be interesting if the next set of Stormont elections become about the protocol, which is not an impossible thing to imagine.

"I think and I would encourage my unionist friends to work through the democratic processes rather than withdraw consent from them, I think that they are better off winning elections than they are pulling out of structures."

The Brexiteer added that he believes Northern Ireland should not be forgotten in the decision-making processes through the transition period.

He said: "I think Northern Ireland often gets overlooked in the union discussion, but Northern Ireland is part of my country and we should not forget that."

On Friday the Agriculture Minister halted construction of permanent inspection facilities for post-Brexit checks on agri-food goods arriving from Great Britain.

DUP minister Gordon Lyons has also stopped further recruitment of inspection staff for the port facilities and said charges would not be levied at the ports on traders bringing goods from GB into Northern Ireland.

Ongoing Irish Sea trade checks, which are taking place at existing repurposed port buildings and other temporary facilities, will continue.

His decision relates to ongoing work on new purpose-built inspection facilities at ports like Belfast and Larne.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill branded the move a "stunt".

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