Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol: What’s happening? – BBC Newsnight

[Music] a divided land with a troubled history now at the heart of a quarrelsome relationship extending way beyond its shores [Music] tensions between the uk and the eu are being aggravated by the northern ireland protocol the most challenging part of the brexit settlement questions does the secretary of state think the people in northern ireland are stupid after the government announced unilateral action to soften the impact of the protocol to avoid a hard border on the island of ireland the uk agreed that northern ireland would remain largely within the orbit of the eu that meant a range of checks on goods travelling from great britain to northern ireland the full implementation of those checks has been delayed unilaterally by the uk for six months and this week a leading brexiteer in the cabinet said new checks should only apply in limited circumstances well the government always intended that it would be a light touch protocol to try and stop goods at risk getting into the republic of ireland and hence into the european union single market we never intended it as a means of uh stopping goods getting to northern ireland jacob rees-mogg also questioned a landmark statement by the uk in 1993 that it had no selfish strategic or economic interest in northern ireland those words helped persuade the ira in secret contacts eventually to end its terror campaign somebody once said that the uk had no selfish interest in northern ireland i'd dispute that i think we have an interest in keeping our whole country together as a united kingdom today labor was granted an urgent commons debate the government said there would never be a border in the irish sea then they signed up to one then 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 well the right honourable gentleman stop taking people for fools and start showing the responsible leadership required to sort this out well i assume that if uh he would therefore support the the moves we took last week and show leadership to deliver for the people of northern ireland i was saying we've been consistent that we would what we wanted to deliver and we have delivered unfettered access to northern line of businesses to the rest of the uk market northern ireland was always going to be the most difficult aspect of any brexit settlement in a sense it helped bring down theresa may after she tried to avoid checks on the irish sea by forging a closer relationship for the whole of the uk with the eu boris johnson opted for a more distant relationship for great britain from the eu thereby creating the need for some checks down the irish sea he now believes the eu is opting for an overly strict approach and failing to understand the sensitivities of northern ireland i think the government's in the right place um essentially when we made the agreement to leave the eu it was always going to be a process that was all going to be sorted out in detail now that process requires reasonableness on both sides and my sense is that we are being reasonable and frankly we use not the leader of the nationalist sdlp is highly critical it's very damaging for the british government across the world not just in america but across europe as well i don't think it's a great way to start out their newfound supposed freedom on the world stage and of course boris johnson will want to move away from the brexit issue and get on to talking about climate change and other things this doesn't bode well if they're prepared to do this and treat other people like that but i'm absolutely confident that the dup and others will be again sold down the river and they shouldn't depend on boris johnson if they haven't learned that by now then they're very very bad at this game a monumental moment once again for northern ireland as it finds itself shaping wider european history nick watt without report well joining us now is sammy wilson the dep's chief whip in westminster neil richmond the spokesperson on european affairs for ireland's governing party fina gale and the democratic congressman richard neal who's chairman of both the friends of ireland caucus who met with simon coveny and marishefkovich today and of the influential ways and means committee in the u.s house of representatives and congressman neil if i can start with you um just tell us how you perceive this is this a breach of the northern ireland protocol or is it a pragmatic and reasonable response how does washington see it i think it was the unilateral manner in which it was adopted that has bothered many of us when you used a quote early on that quote actually came from john major i knew john major and i remember when he stated it it went a long way toward pacifying both traditions in the north of ireland but it also reassured people based upon the genius of the good friday agreement that those who wish to be irish would be irish and those who wished to be british could be british it was indeed as i've noted the work of genius and i think that the problems through the divorce that the uk has had with european union they continue to be pretty stubborn but ireland ought not to be caught as a wedge issue here nor should they be used as hostage in the difficulties and challenges that a post-brexit europe will look like i guess the uk government would argue this is just light touch protocol trying to solve problems do you actually think it's undermining the good friday agreement this action fair enough your description but here's my suggestion this could have been resolved through negotiations in talking with the european union commissioner and talking with the with simon coveny they both agreed this could be done through negotiations there was no need to use the protocol in an effort to jeopardize the sensitivities that surround one of the most stubborn problems in the history of the western world the border in the north of ireland the irish government have called the uk a partner that can no longer be uh relied or no longer be trusted and the uk is accused of breaking international law twice in six months does does your government does the government share the same concerns are you looking at the uk in a different light that's not for me to suggest i think that my position here has been as george mitchell's was in the past suggesting that the good friday agreement is one of the great achievements again in modern western history and understanding this that america is a guarantor of that agreement so fully expect us to take a vested interest and a long-term interest in the success of the good friday accord and i think this is a time for cooler heads to prevail negotiations to get together and try to find a way forward short of neuronal actions that seem to threaten the goodwill that has been established by the good friday agreement the people that negotiated the good friday agreement they need to be cheered on they took enormous political risks in both the traditions in the north and we should honor that based upon the agreement they came to it that's the sanctity of the good friday agreement does this affect anything else that you're looking at i mean you you'll know better than than i do that we're looking for a free trade deal with america right now does this row impact that at all i'm going to be talking with the secretary i hope in the next couple of days and i think we're going to have a discussion that will privately address some of those issues but i want to see these negotiations just get back on an even keel we all have a keen interest in making sure the good friday agreement is honored and we hear that or there are there are early reports uh in one of the papers tomorrow that brandelus the northern ireland secretary is looking to establish ties in washington something that would help with those negotiations can you shed any light on that well he knows that i'm only too happy to be helpful i've been helpful in the past i've tried very hard to be an honest broker in these discussions i think that we all should be celebrating what happened with the good friday agreement this is a never will happen moment we all had a chance to participate in it and witness it so i've been through i don't know how many prime ministers how many secretaries of state and how many irish prime ministers along the way but we've been steadfast in our determination here in america to be an honest broker and a guarantor one of the most successful dimensions to american foreign policy agreement thank you very much i'm going to bring in sammy wilson now um do you appreciate that position of needing an honest broker right now because it's a pretty sorry state of affairs when the eu's threatening legal action and the us is worrying about the future the good friday agreement well i mean i think first of all you're going to have an honest broker they've got to understand what the problem is and i must say i was struck by the total lack of understanding of the good friday agreement and the implications for the good friday agreement from the protocol because of course the protocol as david trimble who negotiated the good friday agreement on behalf of unionists has said is ripped up uh rips up the good friday agreement was first of all it removes the principal consent i.e that the constitutional position of northern ireland cannot be changed without the consent of the people of northern ireland and secondly that issues such as those being dealt with with the protocol must have community consent cross community consent and the cross community consent element of the good friday agreement was actually removed for this for the specific purpose of ensuring that the protocol uh was not challenged in here in northern reporters sami it's a bit rich isn't it you held the balance of power in westminster in the uk for two years and you constantly voted against the one solution on the table that kept northern ireland in gb's orbit so to turn around and say you know you don't like the next thing when it's your arguably political incompetence that that got you here is extraordinary well that's not right of course we voted against mrs may's deal because it did not first of all deliver brexit it would have kept the united kingdom in the single market and in the customs union of the eu which of course meant that we wouldn't have the economic and political independence that we were that brexit promised to deliver and secondly of course mrs may's deal actually was a far worse deal for northern ireland because it would have left northern ireland fully within but it was also it doesn't solve the problem which is where is that border clearly you don't want that border in the irish sea and i presume you don't want that border between the north and south where where do you do the checks how do you solve the problem well first of all the first thing you don't do is check goods which come from jb into northern ireland and don't go any further and don't forget we now have the most police border in the whole of the eu between gb and northern ireland 20 until in january and february 20 of the point of entry certificates which are required by the eu for goods coming from what they call third countries and that's the offense of their own let me bring in neil richmond on this are not now are now made on the northern ireland border so we're the most policed part of the eu border for goods which don't go into the eu which stay in northern ireland neil richmond do you want to respond to that well there's quite a lot to respond to let's remember that sami voted against this deal he voted against mrs may's deal and his party was consistently against the good friday agreement the root of the problem here isn't the protocol that's the solution the problem is brexit and many opportunities are presented to solve this and eventually after five tortuous years we came up with a solution is it ideal no is it the best of both worlds no the best of both worlds was of course the uk remaining in the eu that wasn't an option and now when sammy talks about being the most police border in the eu the uk isn't in the eu and we're in the middle of a pandemic where european countries have shut their borders so he's using selective facts unnecessarily we have a situation here emily where the uk has acted in a unilateral manner the unilateral action is never a solution it is an untrustworthy action well we have said consistently that we want to be the uk's best friends within the eu we're working towards that aim but they're certainly making it very difficult for us is the answer really to go straight to legal action i mean that's not diplomacy it's a sign of failure well this is the arbitrary mechanism that the protocol indeed arrangements allowed for it's the legal approach it's not the unilateral approach it's not the approach of the british government where they've sought to break international law as you mentioned twice but international law that this government voted on this government negotiated and was all done within the last couple of months it's an absolutely farcical situation and we in the irish government have consistently worked with our european partners to deliver that level of flexibility and grace that many in northern ireland seek for but unfortunately sami and his colleagues have been dead set against this from the outset they're trying to wreck it and all they're doing is using inflammatory language like guerrilla warfare to make a situation worse we can resolve this we do need cool heads but we also need the british government to actually meet their legal responsibilities tammy wilson can can you respond to that a lot of our viewers will remember that northern ireland voted to remain by 56 now you don't want to go back over the last five years we can't you know change where we are now but it doesn't sound like a solution where we've got to first of all we're part of the united kingdom the united kingdom voted to leave the eu and we are part of the united kingdom and therefore entitled to leave along with the rest of the united kingdom but secondly let me just take nail up on some of the points he has made the irish government have not been our friends or even attempted to be our friends in this the irish government know that trade between the biggest or our biggest economic partner has been severely disrupted that the the warnings are that once the grace period was over that disruption would be magnified 10 times and we would have huge problems and indeed that's the the view of the people on the ground who have to do the inspections and thirdly that the protocol made it quite clear that where there was economic or societal damage to northern ireland from the protocol that the uk government had the right to act unilaterally and that's what they've done and indeed i've been very surprised the uk government had not acted to protect this part of the united kingdom the economy of this part of the united kingdom and the citizens of this part of the united kingdom as well as the integrity of our own country and i i can tell you one thing that had the same damage being done to the irish republic then the irish republic would have been demanding that action be taken okay and let me just ask let me go back to richard neal with your your honest broker hat on if we can what is that where do you see the solution to this particular problem i think there's considerable room here now for negotiation i got the distinct impression with talking with mario and with simon company today they're open to uh suggestions of negotiation let me also say something we talk about not having a prosperous part of the uk in the north of ireland it was the violence that took place there for 30 years that kept international investment away and that good friday agreement has opened up all kinds of possibilities for international investment people are well educated they have a decent lifestyle but they also are much dependent upon government instead of private investment and i think that the good friday agreement brought about a considerable uh de-escalation of many of the age-old arguments that people had that would have created a better atmosphere for international investment okay let me just go back to something that you raised your question and that is john major's comments at that time i can't tell you how important they were when he talked about no long-term strategic or selfish interest for the uk and the north of ireland getting on with the enforcement of the good friday agreement living with the enforcement of the good friday agreement and not suddenly offering unilateral actions but instead predictable positions carefully negotiated to get through a tenuous period of time yeah make good sense okay richard neal sammy wilson and neil richmond thank you all very much indeed thanks for joining us

Add Comment