UK faces 'trade war with EU' if Govt rip up Northern Ireland protocol, Lord Ricketts warns

10 May 2022, 19:42

By Megan Hinton

Lord Ricketts has warned that the UK could end up in a trade war with the EU if the government decides to rip up the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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Speaking on Tonight with Andrew Marr, the former National Security Advisor warned the tearing up of the protocol would "undermine any remaining confidence" in the Government during the "worst security crisis in Europe" in modern times.

He said: "Yes the EU are treating this as a matter of principle, if the British side also create a matter of principle that they are going to scrap the whole thing, then we lock horns in the middle of a European war, in the middle of a cost of living crisis and we will have some kind of trade war with the EU.

"And that's the last thing we need."

When asked whether or not it would be an "all out trade war", Lord Ricketts replied: "Well they would certainly impose some sort of sanctions, additional tariffs and barriers. Whether an all out trade war, I don’t know."

Read more: Historic win for Sinn Fein as it becomes biggest party in Northern Ireland

Reports suggest officials working for Foreign Secretary Liz Truss have drawn up draft legislation to unilaterally remove the need for checks on all goods being sent from Britain for use in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister on Tuesday indicated that the situation surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol is "now very serious".

Boris Johnson spoke to Irish premier Micheal Martin about the post-Brexit arrangements on Tuesday.

In a Downing Street account of the call, the two leaders agreed on the vital importance of restoring the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

The Prime Minister was said to have made clear that the situation in respect of the protocol was now very serious.

He also said that the balance of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement was being undermined and the recent elections had further demonstrated that the protocol was not sustainable in its current form.

"Despite repeated efforts by the UK Government over many months to fix the protocol, including those sections related to the movement of goods and governance, the European Commission had not taken the steps necessary to help address the economic and political disruption on the ground," a Downing Street spokesman said.

Read more: Government would be 'stupid' to tear up Northern Ireland Protocol, Lord Mandelson warns

It comes after eputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has told LBC "nothing is off the table" as he renewed threats to tear up the Brexit deal which is threatening the "stability" of Northern Ireland.

Mr Raab told LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday it is "critical" for the stability of Stormont that the Northern Ireland Protocol is fixed.

His comments come amid fears that forming an executive will be stalled after Thursday's local elections saw Sinn Fein become the biggest party for the first time.

The unionist DUP has said it will not take part in a power sharing devolved government with Sinn Fein unless progress is made on the protocol - which was agreed by Boris Johnson's Government as part of the Brexit divorce deal.

Mr Raab told LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday that in order to bring "stability" in Northern Ireland, the protocol must be "dealt with".

"I think actually in Northern Ireland we need to bring stability. We need to get the executive up and running so the politicians in Northern Ireland can serve the voters," he told Tom.

"We are going to have to deal with the Northern Ireland protocol because that is clearly disrupting businesses from all communities across Northern Ireland."

Asked if he is worried about Northern Ireland's place in the UK, Mr Raab said: "58% of people in the local elections in Northern Ireland voted for parties who don't support either constitutional change, or do support positively the union."

The protocol was a deal agreed by Boris Johnson's government but in recent months the PM and other senior ministers have been vocal about wanting to renegotiate it - and have not ruled out Britain acting unilaterally to suspend it.

Tom asked the minister: "So, if it's a choice between unilaterally ending the Northern Ireland protocol in order to get the DUP on side, and form an executive, would the government consider and indeed act to break up the Northern Ireland protocol?"

Mr Raab said the Government has been clear they would prefer to "engage with the EU" to fix issues with the protocol.

"That's why we set out a command paper, with our proposals.

Read more: 'Northern Ireland is changing': Alliance Party's Kellie Armstrong reacts to seats doubling

Dominic Raab said the NI Protocol must be fixed.
Dominic Raab said the NI Protocol must be fixed. Picture: Alamy

"We've had a constructive response but not yet a substantial enough response from the EU to fix the problem, and we will not let matters lie there and we have taken nothing off the table, and that remains the case."

He added: "What we've seen from the local elections in Northern Ireland is how critical it is for the stability of Northern Ireland for getting the executive up and running, to have the Northern Ireland protocol properly resolved."

Sinn Fein has become the biggest party in Northern Ireland, securing a historic victory for the nationalists on Thursday.

The party reached 27 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly election, pushing the DUP into second place.

It is the first time an Irish nationalist party has emerged as the largest at Stormont, after more than a century of unionist and protestant majorities in Northern Ireland.

For over 20 years, the DUP has been the country's biggest party.

Earlier, the shadow secretary for Northern Ireland, Peter Kyle, told LBC a border poll on Irish unification was "some way off".

"Only a third of people, about 32%, in Northern Ireland do support a border poll," he told Tom.

"So this is some way off. And people have said very, very clearly in this election in Northern Ireland that the priority is the cost of living challenge.

"Second priority is getting public services improved, and other areas of public life sorted out. "So those are the priorities now."