‘Unthinkable’ Scottish Minister blasts Westminster attempt to override hated Brexit deal

Northern Ireland: UK ‘may have to’ trigger Article 16 says Burns

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Neil Gray, Holyrood’s Minister for Europe, has written to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss calling for urgent talks after reports emerged that UK ministers are preparing to enact legislation that would give them the powers to suspend elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The MSP for Airdrie and Shotts outlined his concerns to Ms Truss in a letter informing her that the Scottish Government would be “strongly opposed” to the proposals.

He said: “There would be no justification for such unilateral action at the best of times, but it is unthinkable right now for at least two reasons.

“First, taking such unilateral steps would clearly run the risk of further escalation and possible countermeasures by the EU, which could be highly damaging for the Scottish economy as well as wider EU relations.

“This cannot be right at a time of an escalating cost-of-living crisis. The damage being caused by Brexit already is bad enough without piling on more misery.

“Secondly, given Russia’s unprovoked, barbaric war in Ukraine, this is a time for European nations to work together in our common interests.”

Mr Gray’s letter comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the UK is ready to take measures to “fix” the deal with the EU governing post-Brexit trading arrangements with Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson is on a trip to India in order to improve Anglo-Indian trade and business and he told a press conference in New Delhi that the Protocol “does not” have the support of much of the community in Northern Ireland.

He said: “The protocol really does not command the confidence of a large, large component of the population in Northern Ireland. We have to address that, we have to fix that.

“We think we can do it with some very simple and reasonable steps. 

“We have talked repeatedly to our friends and partners in the EU. We will continue to talk to them.

“But, as I have said many times now, we don’t rule out taking steps now if those are necessary.”

The move by the British Government is likely to anger officials in Brussels.

It also comes only weeks before elections in Northern Ireland on May 5. 

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In February, the Northern Ireland Assembly effectively collapsed in paralysis when DUP First Minister Paul Givan resigned in protest against the Protocol.

It also meant that Deputy First Minister Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill also lost her position automatically under the rules of the power sharing agreement.

However, according to opinion polls, there is a good chance that Sinn Fein will emerge as the largest party following the Stormont elections on May 5.

The Unionist vote has become increasingly split over the Protocol leading to a decline in support for the Democratic Unionist Party.

This would raise the prospect of the first Sinn Fein First Minister which Unionists have said that it is a prospect they would find difficult to accept leading to potentially more political instability.

It is also likely in this scenario that Stormont would be in no position to face the challenges around the Protocol.

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