Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib has lashed out against the latest agreement reached between London and Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiations, arguing Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s concessions to the EU will prove detrimental for British businesses.
Mr Cleverly and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris met European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in London on Monday, as London and Brussels try to find a way forward over post-Brexit arrangements in the region.
Both sides hailed an agreement in the area of data-sharing and EU access to British IT systems as a key step in resolving the row over the protocol, and which has left Northern Ireland without a devolved powersharing executive since early last year.
But for Mr Habib the deal is a further step towards the complete break up of the UK.
The Chairman of Brexit Watch told Express.co.uk: “Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal did what he had first described as unconscionable; it partitioned the UK with a border down the Irish Sea, leaving Northern Ireland in the EU. The union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was broken and, with it, our country.
“He, like his successors, promised to put right his mistake but all they have done is cement it in.
“The agreement this week between Maros Sefcovic and James Cleverly, giving the EU access to British IT systems, is another step in that direction. The EU will now be able to delve deep into information on trade within the UK. A foreign power will have access to sensitive economic and commercial British information.
“There is no reciprocity in the deal agreed. We will not have access to EU IT systems, even though the EU will be sending goods into Northern Ireland.
“Without doubt the Information will be used to the detriment of British and advantage of the Republic’s and EU’s commercial interests. It will speed up the economic capture of Northern Ireland by the Republic.
“It is yet another massive act of economic and constitutional self-harm visited on the country by our government. No wonder Sefcovic was grinning like a Cheshire cat.”
In a joint statement, officials in London and Brussels said they would now “work rapidly to scope the potential for solutions in different areas on the basis of this renewed understanding”.
The two men will “take stock of progress” next week.
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A joint statement, issued after the meeting, described it as “cordial and constructive”.
“They underlined the EU and UK’s shared commitment to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its parts, while protecting the integrity of both the EU single market and the UK internal market,” it said.
“They agreed that while a range of critical issues need to be resolved to find a way forward, an agreement was reached today on the way forward regarding the specific question of the EU’s access to UK IT systems.
“They noted this work was a critical prerequisite to building trust and providing assurance, and provided a new basis for EU-UK discussions.”
Mr Cleverly, in a tweet after the meeting, said: “We share the same focus – finding the best outcome for Northern Ireland.
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“Today’s progress on data-sharing marks a positive step in discussions on the NI Protocol.”
Downing Street said the data agreement was an “important step forward” and “a foundation for building further trust”.
But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There are still significant issues at the heart of the protocol that need addressing.”
Mr Sefcovic called it a “new basis” for UK-EU discussions on the protocol, which has overshadowed Northern Irish politics since it was agreed as part of the Brexit deal in a bid to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
But members of the unionist community are unhappy with the difficulties it creates for trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to co-operate with forming a devolved Executive in Stormont until issues with the agreement are resolved.