Talk of trade war with EU is ‘deeply unhelpful’ – George Eustice

The Environment Secretary said the UK Government’s proposals did not break international law.

George Eustice spoke to MSPs (James Manning/PA)
George Eustice spoke to MSPs (James Manning/PA)

Speculation of a trade war resulting from changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol is “deeply unhelpful”, UK Environment Secretary George Eustice has said.

There is nothing in the UK Government’s proposals which breaks international law and the EU would be taking an “extreme step” if it abandoned its trade agreement with the UK, he said.

He spoke to Holyrood’s Rural Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning, discussing the impact of Brexit.

On Tuesday, the UK Government set out plans to overwrite parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, freeing goods destined to stay within the UK from EU-level checks.

Liz Truss said the changes would remove ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said the move was needed to reduce “unnecessary bureaucracy” and to protect the Good Friday Agreement, though the EU has threatened to retaliate.

Asked about the impact on Scottish exporters, Mr Eustice told MSPs: “All this speculation around trade wars, we think is deeply unhelpful.

“In fact, I think what we’re seeing is a more measured tone from the European Union and indeed from ministers in Ireland as well.

“People recognise that there’s a challenge here we need to resolve and there’s nothing that we are proposing that breaches international law, it’s consistent with our obligations.

“But we also do need to get politics restored in Northern Ireland.”

He continued: “It would be a very extreme step if they (the EU) were to give notice to abandon the whole Trade and Cooperation Agreement when we’re only seeking to correct the approach on things like Scottish seed potatoes having access to the Northern Ireland market, which is a perfectly reasonable thing for us to do.”

Mr Eustice later said the use of terms like trade war was “media hype”, saying Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney was taking “a more emollient tone and calm things down”.

MSPs asked the minister about the Internal Market Act (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scottish Green MSP Ariane Burgess asked the Environment Secretary about the UK Internal Market Act, saying it had “repeatedly prevented this parliament and its committees from doing their job to protect our environment”.

She said it had approved the introduction of GM crops and prevented a ban on plastic wet wipes.

Ms Burgess said: “Why does your government have such a blatant disregard for devolution?”

Mr Eustice said he did not agree with this claim, saying the UK Government had not sought to stop the Scottish Government from introducing a ban on single-use plastics earlier than the rest of the UK.

There's much more freedom for Scotland now to pursue its environmental ambitions

George Eustice

He said: “There’s nothing though, in the UK Internal Market Act that constrains in any way, the type of policies that Scotland is now exploring when it comes to agriculture policy.”

This included enhanced environmental requirements and woodland creation, he said, arguing that EU rules would have granted less freedom.

Mr Eustice continued: “There’s much more freedom for Scotland now to pursue its environmental ambitions.”

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