An overhauled Brexit deal for Northern Ireland keeps the border down the Irish Sea and there will still not be free trade within the United Kingdom, former deputy DUP leader Lord Dodds has said.
He lambasted a move by the UK Government enabling the expansion and enhancement of border control posts at ports in the region, which he argued would serve to “cement in the reality” of the situation, while other critics at Westminster branded it “a humiliation”.
But ministers insist the improvement of the facilities needed to be undertaken in any scenario “with the primary purpose of controlling goods travelling via Northern Ireland into the European Union”.
Lord Dodds’ comments about the Windsor Framework are likely to cause concern in Downing Street, which hoped the agreement would restore powersharing at Stormont.
There was also criticism by Baroness Hoey, a Northern Irish Brexit supporter and former Labour MP, who argued Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had “over-egged” the deal and was treating people like they were “stupid”.
Speaking in Parliament Lord Dodds said: “The construction of these border control posts at each of our ports in Northern Ireland is being done because the controls cover not just goods being moved from Great Britain into the EU via the Irish Republic as some of the spin would suggest.
“They are being constructed because companies wishing to trade with Northern Ireland from Great Britain must still fulfil European requirements, including a level of checks.
“Great Britain is still treated as a third country as far as Northern Ireland is concerned under the new arrangements.”
Lord Dodds added: “Contrary to what the Prime Minister told us, the border remains in place for taking goods to Northern Ireland that end up staying in Northern Ireland.
“What the new deal does is to keep the reality of the Irish Sea border completely in place, but to mitigate its effect not remove it, through a reduction in bureaucracy, but only for companies who can declare for certain that none of their goods will over the border.
“So border control posts are necessary not just for goods destined for the Irish Republic, but for all goods where there is any uncertainty about their end destination such that one cannot be absolutely sure they won’t end up in the Republic.
“That is not free trade within the United Kingdom.”
He also argued so-called green lane goods destined only for Northern Ireland would still be subject to customs that “clearly demonstrates the ongoing reality of the border down the Irish Sea”.
Lord Dodds said: “It still entails declarations that we are leaving one jurisdiction for another and this is for trade within the United Kingdom.”
He went on: “The purpose of these border control posts is not just to provide red lane checks for goods moving to the Republic of Ireland, but it is to cement in the reality of a customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
“So that trading with Northern Ireland becomes more like trading with a foreign country.
“The undergirding reality here is the endurance of an Irish Sea border and the border control posts mandated by these regulations are necessary to give effect to them.”
Lady Hoey said: “Our Prime Minister has overegged the pudding and by doing so he has actually, I think, treated Northern Ireland people like they’re just that little bit stupid and that they won’t understand it.”
Tory peer Lord Moylan said: “It is objectively a humiliation for the Government to send up a minister of the Crown to this House to ask permission to take powers to erect border infrastructure between one part of our country and another.
“It is a humiliation that is unprecedented as far as I am aware in any other country. I cannot think of another country that would accept it, for the convenience of a foreign power.”
Responding, environment minister Lord Benyon said the Government was having to act to improve the border facilities in the absence of the devolved institutions.
He added: “This legislation was required in all scenarios.”
The minister pointed out agri-food checks into Northern Ireland “had happened for decades”.
Lord Benyon added: “These will mainly be goods travelling directly to the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland ports.”
He told peers: “Overall, the Windsor Framework delivers for businesses, consumers and all people and communities in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.”