Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has rejected opposition calls for an extension to the Brexit transition period amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Lewis told MPs the “best way we can give certainty and confirmation for business is to follow through and deliver on our promise to make sure we leave (the EU) and have everything in place for the end of December this year.”
His comments came as MPs called on the UK Government to agree an extension given the international Covid-19 context.
Speaking during the UK parliament’s Northern Ireland questions, SDLP Foyle MP Colum Eastwood asked: “Given all that is happening right now, is it surely not the time to begin to agree to a transition period extension so that we can finally get a proper agreement around Brexit? Because this isn’t possible to do in our view at this time.”
Mr Lewis responded: “First of all there is no reason why the (European) Commission should be requiring a permanent presence in Belfast to monitor the implementation of the protocol.
“We are focused on and determined to ensure we fulfil all of our obligations to deliver on the protocol and no, I think the best way we can give certainty and confirmation for business, is to follow through and deliver on our promise to make sure we leave and have everything in place for the end of December this year.”
SNP MP Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) also raised a query on the Brexit transition period, asking: “With Covid-19 consuming so much effort internationally, does the Secretary of State not agree that the EU simply won’t indulge further UK Government brinkmanship on transition?
“The resulting cliff edge will be a step too far for many Northern Irish businesses, so why is his Government pushing ahead with its reckless timetable despite widespread support across the political divide for an extension?”
Mr Lewis replied: “Well I have to say, I don’t recognise her reference to widespread support. (There’s) a very clear position for the British public, we stated in just December last year, to see things done so that we as a country can move forward.
“It’s in both our interest and the EU’s interest to be ready to move forward in January 2021 and the best certainty I think we can give business, and we’re focused on giving business, is that unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses with the rest of the UK and we will do that through the Northern Ireland protocol.”