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May cautions PM over taking unilateral action on Northern Ireland Protocol

Photo by UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

By Elizabeth Arnold, PA Political Staff

Conservative former prime minister Theresa May has cautioned Boris Johnson over taking unilateral action on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking in the Commons Queen’s Speech debate, Mrs May warned about the “wider sense of what such a move would say about the UK and its willingness to abide by treaties which it has signed”.

Intervening on her speech, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the protocol “needs to be dealt with” and was “undermining political stability in Northern Ireland”.

But Mrs May said her Brexit deal “met the requirements of the Good Friday Agreement”.

Responding to Sir Jeffrey, she said: “I put a deal before this House which actually met the requirements of the Good Friday Agreement and actually enabled us not to have a border down the Irish Sea or to have a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“Sadly the DUP and others across this House chose to reject that, but it was just such an opportunity for what he (Sir Jeffrey) wanted.”

She told the Commons: “I note that there is no reference to what has been referred to in the papers as a Bill in relation to, and I’m going to use the word, the Northern Ireland Protocol and possibly to varying the terms of the treaty unilaterally.

“Can I say to (Mr Johnson), and he will not be surprised if I say this, that I do not feel that that would be the right move for the Government. That I think the Government needs to consider not just some immediate issues, but also the wider sense of what such a move would say about the UK and its willingness to abide by treaties which it has signed.”

Mrs May urged the Prime Minister to “ensure that we’re a Government that doesn’t just work for certain parts of the country, but a Government that truly works for everyone”.

She said: “The cost-of-living crisis is making life difficult for many across the country. We have rising inflation, the need to restore public finances. The number of people who are economically inactive in this country is rising as well as we’ve seen a hit to sterling and forecast growth is well below trend.

“All those make for a very challenging environment and it’s a time like this that the Conservative principles of sound public finances and competent economic management are needed more than ever.”

Mrs May said she was “deeply disappointed that we only see draft legislation on a new mental health Act”.

She said: “I now fear we might not see a new Act until 2024 and given the proximity of a potential general election may not see a new Act in this Parliament at all. I have to say that I think those suffering from mental health deserve better from the Government and I would encourage action on introducing a new mental health Act.”

The former prime minister added: “I’m also disappointed we don’t have an employment Bill particularly to put through the policy of ensuring that tips that are left for waiters actually get paid to those individuals.”

Mrs May said she was also “disappointed… we don’t see a commitment to an independent public advocate. This was a 2017 manifesto commitment”.

She added: “Thirty-three years on from the Hillsborough disaster I think it is time that we actually took action to provide much greater support for those families who lose loved ones in public disasters.”

On planning and “street votes”, Mrs May said the Government “needs to be very careful about the potential unintended consequences of such a move”.

Mrs May welcomed the Modern Slavery Bill, saying: “I genuinely believe that dealing with supply chains is one of the key ways in which we can ensure that we eradicate modern slavery.”

She also welcomed the Social Housing Regulation Bill, adding: “It is important that we enhance the ability of tenants to have their voice raised, enhance the regulation regime.”

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