JULIAN Smith has warned Liz Truss that continuing to take a hard line with Brussels on protocol will increase support for a united Ireland.
The former secretary of state’s warning came as he urged the new conservative administration to find a ‘pragmatic’ solution to the protocol impasse or risk ‘months of instability’ and a trade war with its largest foreign market.
The MP for Skipton and Ripon, who served as Secretary of State for seven months until February 2020 before being sacked by Boris Johnson, said the UK Government’s ‘relentless and complete focus on the purity of the Brexit” would lead to an increasing number of voters “deciding that the UK is no longer acting in its best interest”.
Writing in The Times, he said the new prime minister’s first few days in office “give her the space to show that she cares about the issues of protocol and is serious and solemn in wanting to resolve the impasse.”
He said a new generation of Stormont politicians had been left “powerless by the continued deadlock over protocol” in the face of the looming energy crisis.
“The onslaught in energy prices is particularly acute in Northern Ireland, with its reliance on fuel oil, below-average household incomes and an economy dominated by small businesses,” he wrote.
Mr Smith, who together with Republic Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney oversaw the deal which restored the institutions in 2020, said the combination of the cost of living crisis and the ‘lists of d The UK’s ‘longest hospital wait’ meant the need to recover Stormont was even more pressing.
He said trade unionism had “real and valid concerns” about certain aspects of the protocol and that the EU and UK needed to “seek practical solutions which address those concerns and those of businesses based on both sides of the Protocol. ‘other of the Irish Sea’.
“They must show that the concerns of trade unionism can be largely met and that the protocol can protect the EU single market but also maintain the two-way opportunities that so many Northern Irish businesses enjoy and want to maintain,” said he declared.
“But recognizing the problems with the protocol and the need to resolve them, it is time for the Conservative Party and the new Prime Minister to recognize that any solution will have to be pragmatic.”
Mr Smith said the Northern middle ground was ‘tired of the Tory Brexit wars’.
He said the alternatives are ‘stark’ – including ‘months of instability as the protocol bill goes through the House of Lords, the continued absence of an executive at Stormont and continuing tensions after passage of the bill as the EU insists on its management of customs and borders”.
He noted that Liz Truss and the EU have explicitly stated that they “want a negotiated solution to the protocol impasse” and that any resolution must “respond to the needs of the region as a whole.”
Mr Smith said restoring devolution is ‘both in the interests of concerned citizens across Northern Ireland and in the long-term interest of preserving the union’.