Labour expects Boris Johnson to suspend Northern Ireland Protocol to distract from fuel crisis

‘They will like the drama of it and they will seek to use that to further their own party political advantage. And that should shock nobody’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 28 September 2021 15:12
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UK fuel crisis ‘direct consequence’ of Brexit, says Michel Barnier

Labour is braced for Boris Johnson to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol at next week’s Tory conference, to milk the “drama” and distract attention from the fuel crisis.

Jenny Chapman, the party’s Brexit spokeswoman, revealed she anticipates Article 16 of the treaty to be invoked within days – triggering a fresh upheaval in EU-UK relations.

The government has continued to threaten the move – despite experts warning it offers no escape from the post-Brexit trade barriers – after Brussels rejected rewriting the Protocol.

Speaking at Labour’s conference, Baroness Chapman said the prime minister was “not enjoying the headlines or the sight of people queuing up petrol stations”.

“I’m ashamed to say this about our government, but I think that makes it more likely that they will want to trigger Article 16,” she told a fringe meeting on the future relationship with the EU.

“They will like the drama of it and they will seek to use that to further their own party political advantage. And that should shock nobody in this room.”

Asked about rumours that the button will be pressed as early as next week, the Brexit spokeswoman replied: “I would not be surprised if what is predicted actually happens.”

The warning came as Baroness Chapman ruled out Labour campaigning to rejoin a customs union with the EU, saying: “It’s not going to be like that.”

Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, and former Brexit committee chair Hilary Benn joined Baroness Chapman in warning Labour would lose the next election if it backed the policy, or rejoining the single market.

Baroness Chapman said the “toxicity” of the debate was easing – and acknowledged “massive holes” in the Christmas Eve deal that has created huge problems for traders.

But she argued it was “unrealistic” to seek to “click back in” to the economic structures the UK had left, particularly “after all the aggravation that we’ve caused ourselves and our European partners”.

Mr Benn said: “We are not going to be fighting the next election saying we are going to rejoin the customs union or the single market. We are not.”

In July, the EU threw out the UK’s demand to renegotiate the Protocol, hailed as “a fantastic deal” by Mr Johnson when he signed it in 2019.

The government wants full Irish Sea trade checks to be abandoned and for the agreement to no longer be policed by the European courts.

Two weeks ago, the Brexit minister David Frost said the EU “would be making a significant mistake” to ignore the UK’s threats to suspend parts of the Protocol.

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