Northern Ireland secretary accused of dodging scrutiny committee examining post-Brexit arrangements

Northern Ireland secretaey Brandon Lewis in front of Downing Street;
Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

Northern Ireland secretaey Brandon Lewis in front of Downing Street; Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The cabinet minister for Northern Ireland has been accused of dodging calls to front a scrutiny committee looking at the effects of Brexit on the region after he repeatedly declined requests to attend.

The Lords EU committee, set up to scrutinise the Northern Ireland Protocol, summoned Brandon Lewis back in February but the minister declined to attend, suggesting peers probe cabinet office minister Michael Gove instead.

Lewis insisted the Cabinet Office, which Gove oversees, was responsible for implementing the agreement. But when Gove fronted the panel in May, he said responsibility for the protocol's enforcement and how the government interacted with regional businesses fell with Northern Ireland Office.

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In the latest escalation, committee chair Lord Charles Kinnoull wrote to Lewis demanding he attend an evidence session immediately but the minister declined again, insisting insisted he, and officials in his department, could not make it until August.

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In the letter, peers expressed their 'disappointment' with the decision.

'As you know, the committee published a detailed report on the Protocol on 1 June. But in spite of repeated requests to you, we have been unable to question you or your department on the committee's findings since our report was published,' Lord Kinnoull said.

'The committee has since that time repeatedly invited you to give oral evidence, but has been told, first, that you are unavailable (without further explanation), and then that the minister of state, Robin Walker MP, is also unavailable until after the summer recess.'

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He added: 'Listening to the concerns of the business community has been a key element of the committee's work on the Protocol,

'We held a follow-up meeting with the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group on 16 June, hearing once again of their concerns about the lack of engagement with the government.'

Lord Kinnoull concluded: 'In view of your responsibility for this engagement, and the shortage of time before the Protocol becomes operational on 1 January 2021, the committee is therefore anxious to discuss these issues with you urgently.'

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