UK government plans to override parts of Brexit deal for Northern Ireland amounts to ‘agitator legislation’, Ulster Unionist leader told House of Lords committee .
Doug Beattie told the Lords sub-committee on the Northern Ireland protocol that while the UK government’s plan would have a ‘damaging’ impact on relations with the European Union in the short term, it could bring the two sides back together. the negotiating table.
The UK government has said it intends to use national law to override parts of the protocol.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced her intention to legislate last month and the bill is expected to be published in the coming days.
Mr Beattie is in Westminster this week for a series of meetings to discuss the political impasse in Northern Ireland.
The DUP refuses to enter power-sharing institutions until issues surrounding the post-Brexit settlement for Northern Ireland are resolved.
Mr Beattie, who appeared before the committee on Wednesday afternoon, called it “stirring legislation”.
He said: “It will really have a detrimental effect on our relationship between Britain and the European Union.
“And we will have a response from the EU regarding our legislation, and then they will back off, and they will back off for two or three months, maybe until after the summer and there will be no negotiations.
“But what he will do is bring people back to the table after the summer, I imagine.
“Because of the legislation that is coming forward, things are likely to get worse before they get better, but we believe they will get better if we continue to engage.”
He said negotiations should not have been allowed to stall before the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
The Ulster Unionist leader, who was among the voices urging the DUP to return to power sharing, offered his support for a more risk-based approach to goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland .
Asked by Lord Hain about hypothetical concerns about chlorinated chicken entering the EU single market through the leaky border on the island of Ireland, Mr Beattie said it was one of a number of issues that could be addressed on a “risk” basis.
He added: ‘You are starting to maintain registers of items at risk, so that we take action on this.
He also suggested a greater role for Northern Ireland politicians in scrutinizing EU rules that apply to the region, offering the possibility of a statutory committee at Stormont.
“They are starting to look at this and see how these European directives that are going to affect Northern Ireland affect us and how we can mitigate that effect if there is a negative effect.
He rejected the suggestion of a direct link between Stormont ministers and Brussels on changes to EU rules.
“I see it going through a conduit rather than directing it directly to ministers,” he said. “I think it would be very difficult for Northern Irish ministers, as part of the UK, to have a direct link with Brussels.
“I just think if we do this in Northern Ireland then there’s a chance we have this in all the devolved nations and it could get quite chaotic.”
Mr Beattie, who told committee members that his party largely opposes Brexit, issued a stark warning of societal instability in the region if concerns among trade unionists over the protocol are not addressed.
He acknowledged that some companies benefit from the protocol, but he pointed out that not all do.
“What we have in the North is feast or famine,” he said. “We have people who are doing very well, we have people on their knees. And you’ll know that in Northern Irish society that doesn’t bode well – the haves have it and the rest don’t. It doesn’t work well.
“We don’t want to cut off the noses of those who are well because of the protocol. But we cannot let those who suffer because of this go to the wall.
He told Lord Empey that ‘societal division’ was deepening in Northern Ireland.
“Communities have come together, but they are slowly falling apart,” he said. “There is a little wedge that grows between them, which gets bigger every time because of the protocol.
“There’s a lot of unionism where the protocol is deeply detrimental to them and they feel their identity is under threat.”
He warned of potential unrest over the summer months in Northern Ireland if frustrations are not resolved.
He warned: “It doesn’t take much to go from a brick to a stone, and from a stone to a petrol bomb, and from a petrol bomb to a bullet, and from a bullet to A coffin. It doesn’t take long in Northern Ireland.
“I’m not trying to scare anyone off by saying it’s going to happen. All I’m saying is that the frustrations could boil over if we don’t do something to fix the protocol.