Arlene Foster has said that obeying the law does not stop her party from trying to change it, as the backlash against the British Government’s Brexit plans continues to grow.
There has been widespread anger after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said on Tuesday that legislation to change the Withdrawal Agreement would go against international law in a “very specific and limited way”.
The Northern Ireland First Minister said the DUP will be working to try to change the law and ensure that Northern Ireland has unfettered access to the UK market.
Speaking in Co Tyrone, Mrs Foster said businesses in Northern Ireland should have access to the UK market without any discrimination.
“In an interview a couple of weeks ago, I said we would obey the law and as ministers it is our legal duty to make sure that we look to the law, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to change the law,” she added.
“I will be working with all my colleagues in the DUP to try and ensure we listen to the voices of businesses and we make sure that we represent that voice.
“It’s important that we have unfettered access and that we have a UK market that we can operate in without any discrimination and make sure our wonderful firms are able to continue to work.”
Under the protocol agreed by the EU and UK in the withdrawal deal, Northern Ireland will continue to follow single market rules for goods and administer the EU’s customs code at its ports.
It was designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, but unionists have been vehemently opposed to it, insisting it instead creates an economic border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Asked about the comments made by Mr Lewis, Mrs Foster said: “Those are matters for the ministers in Whitehall and in Westminster. For us here in Northern Ireland, we have to make sure that we represent the interests of companies so we can continue to do business in the Great Britain market.
“It’s important we continue to make the case for clarification, for changes where necessary so that we can move ahead.
“What we can’t have is less choice for consumers and an increase in price for consumers because we haven’t been able to deal with issues such as goods at risk.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill accused Mr Lewis of having a “brass neck” after he said that the British Government would seek to use Westminster legislation to change aspects of the protocol related to state aid and customs administration.
Ms O’Neill said his comments demonstrate that the “entire Tory Government do not care what happens to the people” in Northern Ireland.
“They have demonstrated time and time again that they are quite happy to use us as a pawn in the middle of the Brexit debate,” she added.
“There was an international agreement painstakingly struck, and we got ourselves some protection in the form of the protocol and what Brandon Lewis openly said was, ‘but sure that doesn’t matter anymore, we are going to override that’.
“It’s not acceptable to the EU side.
“If they stand any chance of negotiating a future trade deal, who wants to do a deal with someone who reneges on a previous deal they have made?”
She called for the Irish Government to put it firmly to the British Government that it “must adhere” to the international agreement.
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