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MSPs divided over acceptance of UK’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

The Scottish Parliament discussed whether to accept the UK’s proposed legislation (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)
The Scottish Parliament discussed whether to accept the UK’s proposed legislation (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

MSPs are divided over whether to accept the UK Government’s Northern Ireland Protocol legislation, after Conservative MPs came under fire for giving the Bill their backing.

The issue was discussed in Holyrood on Wednesday afternoon after the Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons earlier in the week.

The controversial proposals, which would effectively allow the UK to tear up parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, are considered illegal by the European Union, and dozens of Tory MPs abstained in Monday’s vote, including former prime minister Theresa May.

Angus Robertson, the External Affairs Secretary, said on Wednesday that it is “inconceivable” for the Scottish Government to recommend consent towards the move.

He said: “Without the protocol, it is clear there would not have been a deal at all between the European Union and the UK.

“And so good was that deal, according to Boris Johnson, that when he signed it, he hailed it as a ‘fantastic moment’ and went on to fight a general election on the basis that he had got Brexit done.

“Yet this Bill unilaterally disapplies, or affords the UK Government powers to disapply, the legislation that enforces parts of the protocol in the UK.

“In other words, the UK Government wants to tear up that self-same apparently fantastic deal and renege on the UK Government’s commitment and international obligations.”

Mr Robertson told MSPs that he could not “think of anything more irresponsible” than taking such action amid a cost-of-living crisis “and when the UK is at real risk of entering a recession”.

“It causes business and investor uncertainty, and risks sparking a damaging trade war,” he said.

He urged the UK Government to withdraw the proposed legislation and restart negotiations with the EU “with a view to mutually agreeable, durable solutions”.

But Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said that “simply discussing how we got here is not going to take us forward”, and said the protocol is “simply not working”.

“Rightly or wrongly, regardless of what the intentions were in October 2019, whether we voted for it or not, it is not working,” he said.

At the very least, Mr Cameron said, the proposals in the Bill involving “red” and “green” lanes for importing goods from Britain to Northern Ireland are “worth considering”.

“The green lane in particular should assist on the GB side, especially in Scotland, when goods are exported to Northern Ireland.

“That may be beneficial to Scottish businesses, too.”

Labour MSP Sarah Boyack echoed the warnings over the legality of the legislation.

She said: “When I was first sworn into the parliament, I would never have thought we’d be discussing a Bill that would actively break international law.

“Because not only will the Tories’ Northern Ireland Protocol Bill break international law, it also further damages the UK’s global reputation as a trusted partner.

“And it risks worsening the cost-of-living crisis by throwing up further barriers to trade, and it will create further divisions at a time we need to be getting on with our neighbours in Europe.”

MPs voted 295 to 221, majority 74, to pass the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on to its second reading on Monday.