Ex-Brexit Party MEP under fire for saying Northern Ireland Protocol as bad as invasion of Ukraine

‘The only difference is we bowed to the EU without a single shot being fired’, Ben Habib tells Unionists

<p>Ben Habib, centre, joined an application for a judicial review  of the Protocol </p>

Ben Habib, centre, joined an application for a judicial review of the Protocol

A former Brexit Party MEP has claimed the EU’s treatment of Northern Ireland is on a par with Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, sparking criticism.

“The only difference is we bowed to the EU without a single shot being fired,” Ben Habib said – stepping up Unionist attacks on the trade rules in the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The comments come as Boris Johnson admits he is backing away from triggering Article 16 of the agreement, because it would be wrong to be “talking about this subject” while the conflict rages.

But Mr Habib, in an “update on defending the Union of the UK” said the prime minister was “watching events from a distance and instituting a few sanctions”, which was no excuse for failing to act.

“The parallel between Ukraine and Northern Ireland seems to be lost on Mr Johnson,” the ex-MEP for Nigel Farage’s former party has written.

“Admittedly, the EU has not amassed a military force to get its way but its aim with the United Kingdom is the same as Putin’s with Ukraine.

“Both actors wish to exercise influence and control over their targets. They wish to neuter their independence.

“Putin’s approach is through military might. The EU’s approach has been through the Protocol.”

Mr Habib, the chief executive of First Property Group, said Putin wanted Ukraine to “align itself with Russia” so its “trade benefits Russia more than other countries”.

“This is precisely what the EU has achieved in the United Kingdom via the Northern Ireland protocol. The only difference is we bowed to the EU without a single shot being fired,” the open letter states.

Steve Peers, Professor in the School of Law at the University of Essex, said: “A treaty which both parties freely entered into (and which Mr Habib voted for!) is not remotely comparable to a murderous invasion.”

The UK had insisted the EU must agree progress towards easing the trade barrier the Brexit deal created in the Irish Sea by late February – but abandoned the deadline when the Ukraine invasion was launched.

In a new interview with European newspapers, the prime minister laughed when asked if he will “not be talking about Article 16 in the next months”.

“I think that it is something that we could solve with goodwill and common sense,” Mr Johnson said.

But he added: “It really feels pénible to be talking about this subject now” – a French word meaning uncomfortable or distressing.

Steve Baker, a senior Tory MP, has also criticised the UK’s shelving of the Protocol controversy because of the Ukraine crisis, in a speech to East Belfast Conservatives.

“Any suggestion that Putin has vetoed action to restore our constitutional settlement is outrageous. Brexiteers, rightly, would be shamed into silence if we attempted this ludicrous argument in reverse,” he said.

“Violence doesn’t have a veto. Liz Truss must act now to keep promises made to Northern Irish and Conservative MPs.”

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