Holyrood blasts Northern Ireland Protocol changes as ‘unthinkable’

Neil Gray, Holyrood’s minister for Europe, has written to the Foreign Secretary asking for urgent talks.

Neil Gray, Holyrood’s minister for Europe, has written to the foreign secretary asking for urgent discussions on reports UK ministers are preparing legislation giving them sweeping powers to unilaterally suspend elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement (Fraser Bremner/PA)
Neil Gray, Holyrood’s minister for Europe, has written to the foreign secretary asking for urgent discussions on reports UK ministers are preparing legislation giving them sweeping powers to unilaterally suspend elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement (Fraser Bremner/PA)

A Scottish Government minister said any Westminster move to tear up a deal with the EU governing post-Brexit trading agreements with Northern Ireland would be “unthinkable”.

Neil Gray, Holyrood’s minister for Europe, has written to the Foreign Secretary asking for urgent talks on reports UK ministers are preparing legislation giving them sweeping powers to unilaterally suspend elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement.

In the letter to Liz Truss, Mr Gray called for discussions on the proposals and said the Scottish Government would be “strongly opposed” to them.

I have sought urgent discussions with the Foreign Secretary, as I expect Scottish ministers to have a say in such a serious situation which could have lasting negative implications for Scotland.

Neil Gray

“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,” said the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts.

“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.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves as his boards his plane for the UK at Delhi airport at the end of his two-day trip to India (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The 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.

“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,” Mr Johnson told a news conference in New Delhi.

“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, which is likely to inspire anger among EU leaders, comes less than two weeks before the Northern Ireland Assembly election on May 5.

Unionist parties in the region have consistently declared their opposition to the protocol, which they argue cuts off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The Foreign Office has been contacted for comment.

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