Northern Ireland

Brexit: Julian Smith defends government's plan

Julian Smith
Image caption Julian Smith will meet Northern Ireland's four main parties on Friday

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has defended the government's plan to give Stormont a say on some post-Brexit arrangements for the Irish border.

Boris Johnson's proposal would give the NI Assembly a review mechanism on whether NI should continue to apply EU legislation on agriculture and food safety standards.

The DUP has welcomed the idea.

However, other NI political parties have dismissed it as potentially being used as a veto.

Mr Smith said the government would uphold the Good Friday Agreement and ensure consent on all sides.

"I'm sure, in the Brexit deal that's concluded, that the Good Friday Agreement is respected at all its levels," said Mr Smith.

He said it would be up to Brexit negotiators as to how the final shape of a deal looked.

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Media captionGovernment "has proposed a new deal for Northern Ireland"

Under Mr Johnson's Brexit proposals, Northern Ireland would leave the EU's customs union alongside the rest of the UK, at the start of 2021.

Northern Ireland would, with the consent of politicians in the Stormont Assembly, continue to apply EU legislation relating to agricultural and other products.

The consent of Northern Ireland's politicians would have to be sought every four years.

There has been concern from a number of Stormont parties that it could be used as a veto by the DUP, as a cross-community vote would be needed at Stormont before EU regulations could continue to be followed.

Stormont's power-sharing government is also currently not sitting. It collapsed two-and-a-half years ago amid a bitter row about a green energy scheme.

The Irish government has already said it cannot support any proposal that would allow a minority in Northern Ireland to make decisions for the majority.

Mr Smith said he was clear that he would ensure he continued to treat all the Stormont parties equally.

The Northern Ireland secretary is meeting four of the main Stormont parties at Hillsborough Castle on Friday, having spoken to Sinn Féin on Thursday about Brexit and attempts to restore devolution in Northern Ireland.

He is discussing a range of matters with the parties and said he did not rule out reform of the petition of concern - the veto mechanism in Stormont legislation - in order to help progress those talks.

Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion said that the government had "abandoned all pretence of the rigorous impartiality demanded by the Good Friday Agreement".

"Any notion that the DUP would have a veto on this island's future arrangements with the EU is a non-runner - it drives a coach and horses through the Good Friday Agreement," she said.

The Ulster Unionist Party said Boris Johnson's Stormont proposal on Brexit would actually set back plans to restore the institutions.

Party leader Robin Swann said it would only lead to more uncertainty.

"It will make every day Brexit day in Northern Ireland, the assembly would tear itself apart," he added.

'Difficult and frustrating'

Stephen Farry, Alliance, said that the meeting with Mr Smith was "difficult and frustrating".

"The UK Government needs to face up to the reality their latest Brexit proposals are really damaging for the prospect of talks," he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Boris Johnson's offer was "not realistic at all".

"The deal that the prime minister has put forward will not fly here or in any European capital across this continent," he said.

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