‘We’ll defend the UK’ Steve Barclay pledges to free Northern Ireland from EU rules

Brexit: Steve Barclay says government will ‘defend the UK’

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Britain has kicked-off a furious row with the European Union after the Government set out plans to cut swathes of Brussels red tape for Northern Ireland. The move sparked fury among Brussels insiders, who accused No10 of deliberately breaching international law. But Number 10 have insisted on easing red tape imposed by the bloc to prevent Brexit trade disruptions between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Defending the approach on BBC Newsnight Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Steve Barclay stressed: “We will defend the UK.”

Mr Barclay told Emily Maitlis on Newsnight: “We are committed to ensuring that we protect businesses in Northern Ireland.

“We have also been very clear about that, it is important. One of the key features of the budget was the illustration of the strength of all parts of the United Kingdom.

“Many of the measures we have announced today in the budget enable us to operate across the United Kingdom partially across business opportunities and levelling up.

“That was a key theme of the budget and our response to Brexit will be exactly in the same guises.”

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“We have always been clear, the Prime Minister has been very clear that we want to have a good relationship with our European partners,” he continued.

“But at the same time, we will defend the United Kingdom and ensure that business between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is supported.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that “temporary operational easings” would be used to protect the flow of food to Northern Irish supermarkets.

He vowed: “The position of Northern Ireland within the UK internal market is rock solid and guaranteed.

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“We’re making sure we underscore that with some temporary operational easings in order to protect the market in some areas such as food supplies pending further discussions with the EU.

“We leave nothing off the table in order to ensure we get this right.”

A government source said the move would give supermarkets in the region more time to prepare for life under the Brexit divorce deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol to avoid a hard border.

To keep the Irish border open, the area effectively remains part of the EU’s single market and some checks are now made on some products arriving from the rest of the UK. 

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Brexit minister Lord Frost and his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic met to discuss the row last night.

Ahead of the talks, Mr Sefcovic fumed: “This is the second time that the UK Government is set to breach international law.”

Downing Street has called for an extension to the grace periods that are due to expire at the end of the month, but EU insiders fear an agreement will not ease the tensions.

An EU diplomat fumed: “Under the agreement, a grace period can only be agreed by both sides. If it’s not, it’s not a grace period but a violation of the treaty. The fact is that the UK is failing to live up to what it agreed.”

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