A Northern Irish MP has expressed fears that Chris Heaton-Harris, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will jeopardise negotiations with the EU over Brexit. DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the minister has been “decidedly coy” on issues relating to the EU, accusing him of showing an “unwillingness” to stand up for the unionists while attempting to appease Sinn Fein. This came after Mr Heaton-Harris hinted this morning at a U-turn on the Government’s position on the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in policing the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The UK Government has long insisted the ECJ should not be allowed to have the final say on how the Northern Ireland Protocol is implemented.
But Mr Heaton-Harris failed to say whether or not this is still a red line for the Government.
Questioned on whether the UK Government is still insisting that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) cannot be the final arbiter in any dispute, he said: “I am afraid I am not the negotiator here.
“It is James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, with his European counterpart, Maros Sefcovic.
“And I am not privy to all of their conversations or what is going on behind the scenes completely. But, as you said, these negotiations, these talks, everybody has high expectations.”
Liz Truss’s Government previously ruled out changing its stance on the issue, after it was reported that Britain could be willing to drop its opposition to the role of the ECJ in order to reach a compromise on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Speaking about Mr Heaton-Harris’ perceived ambiguity this morning, Mr Wilson told Express.co.uk: “Heaton Harris, although he was a Brexiteer and former chairman of the ERG, seems to be decidedly coy on all the things which we thought he promised he was going to be black and white on and clear and had no ambiguity about.
“I suspect it’s the influence of the Northern Ireland office and his unwillingness to stand up to them. The Northern Ireland office’s goal is to keep Sinn Fein happy and keep the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Irish Republic happy.
“If you remove the bottom parts of the pyramid then you don’t need the top part, they can’t sit in isolation.”
When asked if Mr Heaton-Harris could jeopardize successful attempts to resolve the issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol, Mr Wilson said: “Definitely. Heaton Harris has to be very very clear in his mind that we see this as a fight for the union and we are not going to accept some tawdry compromise on something that doesn’t deliver.”
The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was agreed upon as part of the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit – since October 2021.
It allows Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s single market for goods but it has faced criticism because a border was effectively created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea.
The border has led to delays, supermarket shortages and increased costs for businesses in Northern Ireland.
The Government plans to remove key parts of the protocol, such as the need for checks on goods entering Northern Ireland, through the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
Yesterday, Mr Heaton-Harris announced that the Government will be introducing legislation to extend the deadline for elections to the Stormont Assembly.
An election was triggered in Stormont last week after the executive was blocked from meeting due to the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The devolved government has not fully functioned since February, with the DUP blocking the formation of the ruling executive.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said he would introduce new legislation to extend the deadline for an election by six weeks, with an option for a further six-week extension if the situation is not resolved by the December deadline.