“The DUP are refusing to nominate because they’ve got a mandate through the election, as the largest party in unionism, not to nominate until the Protocol is resolved. And at the moment, the Protocol, which the EU claims is about protecting the Good Friday Agreement, is the very document putting the Good Friday Agreement most at risk.”
The EU insists that it has put forward “far-reaching and impactful bespoke arrangements” to smooth the flow of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. But Mr Lewis and Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, are adamant that the Protocol itself must be changed in order to lift the burdens on businesses that have stemmed from the agreement.
If the EU fails to renegotiate the document, the UK’s plan to unilaterally override the Protocol will be the only way to restore power-sharing, says Mr Lewis – given that the DUP’s objections are the only hurdle preventing the formation of a new executive.
“Restoring power sharing is about all the parties in Northern Ireland being happy to nominate and Sinn Féin are keen to do that and get on with that,” he says.
Mr Lewis has become a lightning rod for attacks from ex-soldiers on the Conservative benches becoming increasingly furious at repeated delays to the fulfilment of the Government’s pledge to give veterans of the Troubles “the protections they deserve”.
In one particularly heated exchange, Mark Francois, a former defence minister, shouted across the Commons chamber: “Where’s your bill, Brandon?”
Minister praised for Troubles Bill
Now, after years of wrangling over how to end the hounding of British veterans, the Northern Ireland Secretary will stand at the Commons despatch box on Tuesday to present the Bill he is convinced will solve the problem.
Details of the legislation published last week were sufficient for Johnny Mercer, one of Mr Lewis’s fiercest critics over the issue, to praise the “good legislation”, for which the minister deserved “huge credit”.
Speaking ahead of the first debate on the Bill this week, Mr Lewis says: “I understand their frustration. They want to deliver for those who served with honour for their country. I do as well. And I have felt strongly about that from the beginning of this.
“Equally as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as somebody who has met these victims and victims’ groups, we want to deliver for the victims and survivors in Northern Ireland as well.
“The legal complexity of delivering both those things was worth taking a bit of time to get it right. And I think we have now, and we can deliver, something that we as a Government can be proud of.”
An outline of Mr Lewis’s proposals was first published last summer, when it prompted widespread criticism over his intention to introduce an effective statute of limitations that would end all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.