Brexit: Dominic Raab says fixing Northern Ireland Protocol ‘cannot be postponed’ as Stormont power sharing deal in doubt

Fixing the Northern Ireland Protocol “cannot be postponed,” the deputy prime minister said amid fears progress on power-sharing remains stalled after last Thursday’s election.

Dominic Raab told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that stability was “in jeopardy” over problems with the protocol, which governs Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade deals.

The agreement ensured that there would be no return to a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, but creates an effective border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Read more: What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why is it important?

The stalemate in efforts to renegotiate the deal came to a head with the results of last Thursday’s assembly elections, in which Sinn Fein became the largest party for the first time.

The unionist DUP has said it will not participate in a power-sharing deputy government with Sinn Fein unless progress is made on the protocol.

Raab told Sky News that the UK wanted “stability” to be created with the formation of a new executive.

But he said “stability is being put at risk, in jeopardy if you will, because of the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol, something that affects communities across the board.”

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He added: “It is clear that the Northern Ireland Protocol needs to be fixed…and that cannot be postponed.

“We will not get the executive that the people of Northern Ireland need until it is fixed.”

Construction of border inspection facilities in Northern Ireland has been halted
The protocol governs post-Brexit trade agreements for Northern Ireland

The protocol was a deal agreed by the Boris Johnson government, but in recent months the prime minister and other senior ministers have expressed a desire to renegotiate it, and have not ruled out Britain acting unilaterally to suspend it.

Raab said: “If it had been implemented with… flexibility and good will and with the commercial interests of the Northern Irish communities and not used frankly as a political device, I don’t think we would do it.” d have the same level of problems.

“But the point of discussing that is past. We need to see it fixed now. The government is committed to fixing it.”

Raab said this would be done “preferably through negotiations.”

But he added: “If not, we will need to take action to ensure that the economic integrity of trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain and, frankly, the constitutional integrity of the UK is protected and preserved.”

“It is clear now: if anything, the result in Northern Ireland of those elections makes it clear that it cannot be postponed.”

Pressed on a time frame for protocol changes to be implemented, and whether it would be weeks or months, Mr Raab said “no more than that”.

He declined to say whether such a move would be taken at the queen’s speech this week.

Ireland’s Europe Minister Thomas Byrne said a “decisive majority” of Northern Ireland’s Stormont Assembly’s elected members want the protocol to work and called on the UK to “engage in a renewed way with the Union Europe” on the subject.

Raab also appeared to downplay prospects for a referendum on Northern Ireland’s unification with the Republic of Ireland, after Sinn Fein called for preparations to be made for such a vote.

He said: “If you look at the results in Northern Ireland, 58% of the people voted for parties that support union or for parties that do not support constitutional change and that is the message from the people of Northern Ireland.”

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