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European Commission and Welsh FM call on Johnson to back down from NI protocol law bid

THE European Commission (EC) has urged the UK to “engage” over the Northern Ireland Protocol as the First Minister of Wales has hit out at Westminster plans to override the Brexit agreement.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is due to make a statement to MPs later in the House of Commons on plans to bring forward legislation that would allow the UK Government to ignore parts of the protocol, which ensures Northern Ireland can remain in the EU single market and prevent a land border with Ireland.

There is no draft bill being put forward, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the plan is “insurance” as negotations between London and Brussels continue.

READ MORE: What to expect as Northern Ireland Protocol row intensifies

It comes after Johnson had a “fairly tough” meeting in Northern Ireland on Monday at a meeting with politicians from the main five Stormont parties. 

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has said there is no intention for the legislation to be introduced this week.

But the plans have caused outrage amongst critics, like Mark Drakeford, the Welsh FM, and the EU have consistently called for the UK to engage in dialogue with them over the plans.

EC spokesman Daniel Ferrie told a press briefing in Brussels: “I think our message is loud and clear: engaging with us on the basis of the proposals we put forward last October, engaging with us on those flexibilities, is a much better course than engaging unilaterally.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen with PM Boris Johnson

Asked if he could expand on commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic last week suggesting he would be willing to look at changing EU legislation if “Britain was constructive about implementation of the protocol”, Ferrie said: “In general, when we came forward with the flexibilities last October we said this was not a ‘take it or leave it’ type package.

“The vice-president said himself in his statement on Thursday that we made clear there is still potential to be explored in our proposals.

“That’s all I would want to say about that, and of course you know that the Foreign Secretary is scheduled to speak later on and we can react accordingly after that.”

The EC are not the only ones urging discussion on the topic rather than legislation.

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In a letter to the Prime Minister, in which he copied Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the head of Northern Ireland Civil Service, Drakeford noted reports that the UK is “preparing legislation to disapply unilaterally parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol”.

He continued: “Acting in this way would, I believe, risk material damage to the British economy and, given that the Protocol is part of a binding international agreement which you negotiated and signed, undermine Britain’s reputation internationally.

“Furthermore, since any action along these lines would affect all parts of the UK there is a clear case for a discussion of all UK governments to consider this matter.”

The National: Welsh FM Drakeford has urged the PM to engage in discussions with the blocWelsh FM Drakeford has urged the PM to engage in discussions with the bloc

Drakeford set out the Welsh position; that the Good Friday Agreement must be “the first priority” and that the “complex and sensitive” issues can only be resolved through dialogue.

He added: “In relation to Wales specifically, the Welsh Government has a direct interest in anything which affects the way in which goods flow between Great Britain and the island of Ireland, given the strategic importance of our west-facing ports, particularly Holyhead, and on matters which might affect Welsh businesses more widely.”

Drakeford urged the PM not to take any unilateral action and continue negotiations with the EU, and called for a discussion and meeting of the devolved nations on UK-EU relations.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Secretary said he wanted to see light-check “green lanes” established for goods entering the region from Great Britain that were not destined to travel into the European Union’s single market.

​READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon talks Scottish independence with top US government official

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Lewis said: “There are too many companies, including major supermarkets, at the moment who have no stores in the Republic of Ireland, who are moving their products from their depots in Great Britain into Northern Ireland for sale and consumption in Northern Ireland, but going through checks as if they were going into the EU.

“That just doesn’t work and there are products that can’t travel that way.”

He added: “What sometimes gets missed in this is that what the EU is proposing now is that some of the checks we’ve had grace periods for – we are at a standstill at the moment where we are not fully applying some of the checks the EU wants – they actually want to bring those in, so they want to make matters materially worse for the people of Northern Ireland, and that’s just not viable.”

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