Brexit victory: Boris secures DUP backing over changes to ‘hugely damaging’ EU exit bill

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Boris Johnson is expected to table an amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement Act on Wednesday changing a critical protocol about the future of Northern Ireland at the end of the Brexit transition period. European quarters reacted with concern at the news, warning any significant changes to the legislation could have a serious impact on the ongoing trade negotiations with the European Union. But DUP MP Sammy Wilson welcomed the news as he insisted changes to the act could remove the threat of “hugely damaging” economic consequences in the UK nation. 

Speaking to BBC Politics Live on Monday, Mr Wilson said: “First of all, I want to see the detail of the Bill rather than a leak to a newspaper.

“We’ll know when the first reading of the Bill occurs on Wednesday what the detail is.

“The one thing I am pleased about, though, is that despite what has been said about the withdrawal agreement, the Government is now focusing on the fact the withdrawal agreement has the potential of being hugely damaging to Northern Ireland’s economy in terms of increased prices, job losses, loss of access to our major market in GB and, of course, the political consequences of all of that has.”

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Mr Wilson added:If the internal market bill seeks to address some of the things in the withdrawal agreement which are going to damage the Northern Ireland economy, then I’m pleased the work that has been done by our own ministers here in Northern Ireland, by ourselves in Westminster and groups like the Centre for Brexit policy… if that is now focusing minds in Government, then that’s a good thing.”

The current protocol outlines the procedures set to be put in place across Northern Ireland in the event of a trade agreement with the European Union.

While details of the amendments will be published on Wednesday, analysts suggested the changes to the Bill could ultimately allow the UK to override the agreement struck with Brussels last year.

The move is believed to be part of an attempt to push the European Union into a corner and pressure the bloc into agreeing a trade deal before November.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced he is prepared to walk away from the negotiating table if an agreement is not in place by October 15, 16 days before the initial deadline the EU set in February.

A British official reiterated their commitment to the Northern Ireland protocol but insisted the UK must have measures in place to safeguard the country from additional case should talks with Brussels end in a no deal scenario.

They said: “The Government is completely committed, as it always has been, to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in good faith.

“If we don’t take these steps we face the prospect of legal confusion at the end of the year and potentially extremely damaging defaults, including tariffs on goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland.

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“We are making minor clarifications in extremely specific areas to ensure that, as we implement the protocol, we are doing so in a way that allows ministers to always uphold and protect the Good Friday peace agreement.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier refused to address claims of an upcoming amendment but insisted the Northern Ireland agreement remains key to a trade deal.

The assessment was later echoed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who wrote on Twitter: “I trust the British Government to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law & prerequisite for any future partnership.

“Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is essential to protect peace and stability on the island & integrity of the single market.”

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