The current impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol is the consequence of years of hard Brexit fanaticism and will only be solved when Conservative politicians stop using Northern Ireland in political games, SDLP Brexit spokesperson Matthew O’Toole will tell a House of Lords committee tomorrow.
In evidence to the Lords EU affairs sub-committee on the Protocol, O’Toole will draw on his experience not just as a Stormont politician, but his years working at the heart of the UK Government, as a civil servant in Downing Street before and after the 2016 Brexit referendum.
As an insider ahead of the referendum and in the year following the referendum, O’Toole was a vocal advocate for the interests of Northern Ireland and ultimately left his civil service career because of the damage Brexit was likely to do to the Northern Ireland peace process, relations on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain – concerns which have all been borne out over the past six years.
O’Toole will warn that a toxic fusion of far-right Tory Brexiteer nationalism and far-right unionism is conspiring to seek confrontation with the EU rather than a constructive outcome. He will lay out a series of SDLP proposals on increased democratic participation for NI politicians in engagement with the EU institutions, enhanced structures to help smooth the movement of goods and a multilateral effort to maximise the economic opportunity of dual market access under the NI Protocol.
Ahead of the evidence session, Matthew O’Toole MLA said:
“There is so much distortion and misinformation around the NI Protocol that I look forward to the opportunity to correct some of the narrative. Having been at the heart of the Brexit nightmare for longer than most, I intend to be blunt with the Lords about the failure of successive UK Governments to take seriously the impact of a hard Brexit on Northern Ireland – the hard Brexit which ultimately made the Protocol essential.
“Few people have been warning for longer than I have about the impact of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement, but I will also set out positive SDLP proposals to build confidence in the operation of the Protocol, including smoothing east-west trade but critically taking advantage of the vast economic opportunity the Protocol affords us.
“This opportunity has been too often lost amid the hysterical noise coming from both hardline unionism and the further reaches of the Brexit nationalist Tory right. While we all want to see the Protocol implemented as smoothly as possible, our party will not sit silently while they plot to destroy the protections from a hard border and threaten a once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity.”