Sir John Major faced the Government’s wrath last night after he accused Boris Johnson’s administration of taking a ‘we are the masters now’ approach.
The former Conservative Prime Minister yesterday said plans to trigger Article 16 in the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol were ‘colossally stupid’ and that Ministers had broken the terms of the Brexit agreement with the EU.
The protocol requires that goods coming from other parts of the UK to Northern Ireland are subjected to customs inspections as well as food safety tests.
Article 16 triggers the unilateral suspension of certain parts.
Sir John Major faced the Government’s wrath last night after he accused Boris Johnson’s administration of taking a ‘we are the masters now’ approach
A Government source told The Mail on Sunday that Sir John was trying to ‘settle scores over Brexit’, which he opposed, and that he had a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of the protocol.
Sir John yesterday also heavily criticised the Government’s handling of the lobbying row involving Tory MP Owen Paterson.
He told the Today programme on Radio 4 that the Government’s actions in the Commons last week were ‘shameful’ and Mr Johnson’s administration was damaging the UK’s reputation overseas and treating Parliament ‘with contempt’.
The former Conservative Prime Minister yesterday said plans to trigger Article 16 in the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol were ‘colossally stupid’ and that Ministers had broken the terms of the Brexit agreement with the EU
Last week, Johnson did a shameful U-turn as he tried to reform the Commons standards rules. This was in order to prevent Paterson’s suspension for 30 days because he had violated lobbying rules.
Sir John, whose Government was mired in sleaze scandals, said: ‘The striking difference is this. This kind of behavior was addressed by a committee I established in the 1990s. Over the past few days we have seen today’s Government trying to defend this sort of behaviour.’
He added that ‘there is a general whiff of “we are the masters now” about their behaviour’ and accused Mr Johnson’s administration of being ‘un-Conservative’ – including over Brexit.
‘This Government has done a number of things that have concerned me deeply,’ he said.
‘They have broken the law, [with]Prorogation of Parliament. They have broken treaties – I have in mind the Northern Ireland Protocol. They have broken their word on many occasions.’
But former Brexit Secretary David Davis criticised ‘intrinsic Remainers’ such as Sir John for attacking the UK’s negotiating strategy while at the same time failing to criticise France for ‘clearly trying to make life difficult’.
This was a reference to French Prime Minister Jean Castex’s letter urging the EU last week to use the fishing row to show there was ‘more damage to leaving the EU than remaining there’.
Last night, a Government source said: ‘The comments from John Major suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Article 16 in the treaty is an exception that can be invoked by any side to protect themselves in case the protocol creates serious problems in reality.
‘Given the significant disruption the protocol is causing in Northern Ireland we would be within our rights to use this safeguard. This would not violate any treaty.
‘It’s difficult to avoid thinking that John Major is simply trying to settle scores over Brexit.’
The source also said Sir John ‘seems to have forgotten’ that the EU had invoked Article 16 at the start of this year during the row over the supply of Covid vaccines. The source said this had ‘significantly undermined cross-community confidence in the protocol in Northern Ireland’.
Mr Davis said of Sir John’s comments about Article 16: ‘To accuse us of considering it as somehow misbehaving is frankly very odd. It’s all very well for people who are intrinsically Remainers to attack the negotiating strategy when EU countries like France are clearly trying to make life difficult.’
This protocol stipulates that all goods entering Northern Ireland from the UK are subjected to food safety and customs checks.
He said Article 16 ‘was put there for unforeseen circumstances arising. And at the moment we are heading towards exactly that – a position that is untenable for Northern Ireland businesses. This is a valid option.
‘This would be more credible if John Major had criticised the EU when they threatened to use it in a manner that was not appropriate – over vaccines. That was, bluntly, a vindictive use.’
Maros Sefcovic, vice president of the European Commission will be traveling to London this week to carry on talks. On Friday he warned that triggering Article 16 ‘would have serious consequences’.
Downing Street consistently rejected EU claims that Britain was poised to activate Article 16 immediately and preferred to resolve their differences by negotiation. The UK will use this mechanism to find a solution if it is not possible.
Sir John yesterday also heavily criticised the Government’s handling of the lobbying row involving Tory MP Owen Paterson
Talks have been stalled after three weeks of intensive negotiations. Both sides claim that the EU has not made sufficient concessions.
There are still issues to be discussed, including reducing the number of customs controls and red tape surrounding medications and the movement between Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK.
A Government source said: ‘We’ve always said that we’ll use Article 16 if solutions can’t be found. But people need to understand that we’re taking these talks seriously and we mean it when we say that we want a negotiated outcome.’
The source said the EU’s proposals so far ‘don’t deliver what they say on the tin. The number of checks and processes would still be unacceptably high, contrary to what the Commission said when they first announced them’.