Politics

EU shamed for using NI as its ‘plaything’ in Brexit trade talks – ‘Not a bargaining chip!’

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Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster hit out at Brussels amid controversy over Boris Johnson’s new Brexit legislation which could override parts of the divorce deal. Responding to Assembly questions, the DUP leader said: “The EU needs to stop using Northern Ireland to get their own way.

“We are not the plaything of the European Union and it causes great difficulties here in Northern Ireland when people use Northern Ireland in that fashion.”

Mrs Foster warned against the issue of goods being imported to Northern Ireland from Britain being used as a “bargaining chip”.

She said: “I am amazed that that issue has not yet been solved because it’s a very straightforward issue.

“That should not be used as a bargaining chip but instead it should be dealt with as quickly as possible.”

On the Prime Minister’s new Brexit legislation, Mrs Foster said: “The GB market is our largest market so it is important that we have unfettered access into the market and that is what I hope this Bill will achieve.

“Sometimes when I listen to EU negotiators and they talk about peace in Northern Ireland, it is apparently only if we have free access north/south, there’s very little conversations about access east/west, and of course we do need that in a more fundamental way.

“I can understand why the north/south issue was such a big issue, and I recognise that, but there were other ways to deal with that.

“Those other ways were pooh-poohed and not listened to, and unfortunately we now find ourselves in this situation.

“So there needs to be an acknowledgement that east/west – the integrity of the United Kingdom – needs to be protected as much as having to deal with the north/south trade.”

Mrs Foster added she hopes contention around the Northern Ireland Protocol can be removed by the UK and the EU striking a comprehensive zero-tariff free trade agreement.

Her comments come as Mr Johnson has defended the UK Internal Market Bill, which could breach international law by flouting the Withdrawal Agreement, in the House of Commons.

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The Prime Minister insisted the legislation was a necessary “legal safety net” to protect the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

He claimed that passing the Bill would strengthen the hand of UK negotiators in trade talks with the EU.

Mr Johnson added the measures were an “insurance policy” that he hoped would “never be invoked” if a deal is finally reached with Brussels and suggested MPs would have a vote if the powers are ever used.

The Prime Minister told MPs: “In recent months the EU has suggested that it is willing to go to extreme and unreasonable lengths using the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way that goes well beyond common sense simply to exert leverage against the UK in our negotiations for a free trade agreement.”

He said that “if they fail to negotiate in good faith” the UK must introduce a “package of protective powers”.

The Bill sets out the way that trade within the UK will work once outside the EU’s single market and customs union.

Informal post-Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU are due to continue this week.

Chief negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier are meeting with their teams on Tuesday.

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