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MP’s concern at ‘lack of meaningful engagement’ on Windsor Framework

European Scrutiny Committee chairman Sir William Cash said it had been difficult to get a minister before the committee.

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The chair of the European Scrutiny Committee has expressed concern at a “lack of meaningful engagement” from government over the Windsor Framework.

Sir William Cash was speaking as Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris appeared before the committee on Tuesday to answer questions around the treaty.

On Wednesday MPs will vote on a statutory instrument to activate the Stormont brake, a key section of the framework intended to allow MLAs a chance to intervene on new EU legislation that will impact Northern Ireland.

Sir William told MPs Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declined an invitation to speak to the committee on the matter, and said it had “proven exceptionally difficult” to secure a minister to appear.

Sir William added: “We were promised engagement but the Government has failed to deliver anything meaningful … it appears clear to us that the Government set its course weeks, if not months, ago and has done all it can to avoid being diverted from it.

“The Windsor Framework is a significant development in the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU, its legal complexity speaks for us and there is a vast amount of paperwork, and its provisions will impact the people and businesses of Northern Ireland and Great Britain.”

Mr Heaton-Harris responded saying that in his time as chief whip, he found that “Parliament always manages to find a way of having its say”.

Asked whether Wednesday’s vote is being regarded as a “meaningful vote” on the whole framework, Mr Heaton-Harris said it is a vote on the statutory instrument.

He told the committee that it is important to have the Stormont brake in place “sooner rather than later because there has been a lot of speculation as to what it does and what it can’t do”.

“This codifies it in black and white so people can actually see it for itself as a very important part of that democratic check,” he said.

“People are taking it as that, whether it is or not is all in the eyes of the beholder. My intention is that it is a vote on the SI.”

He added: “I’d like to think the Stormont brake is something that is genuinely worth voting for because essentially not voting for it is, by implication, voting for the continuation of automatic alignment of EU laws without a say for the people of Northern Ireland.

“It’s an important part that will be discussed again on Friday at the joint committee, which is why I believe it has been tabled for this time.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Heaton-Harris also told the committee that his primary objective is to get the Stormont Executive and Assembly up and running.

The DUP has been refusing to participate in devolved government in Northern Ireland until its concerns around the Brexit settlement are dealt with.

Mr Heaton-Harris described the framework as representing an “important opportunity for a turning point for Northern Ireland”.

He insists it protects the economic rights of the people in Northern Ireland, and deals with the everyday issues that people and businesses in the region had faced due to the operation of the Brexit protocol.

“We have rewritten the protocol treaty and replaced it with a radical legally binding new Windsor Framework, something many said could not be done,” he told MPs.

Committee member DUP MP Gavin Robinson was himself asked whether he believes the Windsor Framework will help to restore powersharing government in Northern Ireland.

He responded: “It is not for me to answer a question like that in this session.

“It’s safe to say this, tomorrow we will be presented with a singular proposition on the Stormont brake which now manifests itself into a global choice on the Windsor Framework which does not and is not honouring the commitments to give time and space to assess the totality of issues associated with what the government has provided.”

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