Northern Ireland Protocol: Legislation to scrap parts to be publishedon June 13, 2022 at 5:36 am

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Amendments to the post-Brexit trade arrangements will not break international law, Brandon Lewis says.

Boat at portImage source, PA Media

Legislation giving ministers power to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol is due to be published in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.

Ahead of the publication, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected to speak to European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.

NI Secretary Brandon Lewis has said he is confident the changes would be lawful.

He also said he expected the DUP to form an executive after publication.

But Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Sammy Wilson said it was “impossible” to make a judgement call until the party had seen the final draft of the legislation.

He said the DUP had “been told bits and pieces of what is there” but it had been “a changing feast all week”.

The protocol keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods.

It has been a contentious element of the Brexit treaty, which was signed by the UK and the EU in December 2020.

A row over its impact has created a block on forming a devolved government in Northern Ireland, with the DUP stopping the assembly from sitting or a new executive being formed since Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in May’s election.

The DUP, which has the second highest number of Stormont seats, has refused to support the election of a new speaker or first and deputy first minister until there is “action” on the protocol.

Sinn Féin leader Mary-Lou McDonald told Sky News the UK legislation would break international law and cause “huge, huge damage” to the Northern Irish and Irish economies.


There’s been a long build up to this legislation which will, this week, generate a lot of noise.

The EU won’t “sit by and watch the UK tear up a treaty”, warned one Brussels diplomat.

The European Commission is expected to relaunch legal action against the UK, which was previously paused, once it’s had a chance to analyse the bill.

That’s seen as a first step or “low-hanging fruit”.

But the commission is also likely, before long, to outline further “flexibilities” around its own proposals for easing checks on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

It won’t be anything like the more fundamental rewriting of the treaty that the UK’s calling for but officials on both sides have signalled that they don’t see today’s legislation as ending any prospect of further talks.

In fact, some in Brussels view this bill, that’s further exposed splits in a fractious Tory party, as a clumsy UK negotiating tactic.

There’s speculation too that Liz Truss is trying to burnish her leadership credentials with some Conservative Brexit supporters.

But allies of the foreign secretary insist that, behind this potential law, there is a far simpler logic; if the EU won’t renegotiate a treaty that is causing huge problems in Northern Ireland, then the UK government is obliged to act.

Putting questions around blame and motives aside, one clear outcome of today looks set to be a further deterioration in post-Brexit relations between the UK and the EU.


What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

The trade deal governs how goods enter Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and was agreed by the UK government and the European Union following the Brexit vote in 2019.

It was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland when the UK left the European Union.

The protocol led to the creation of new goods checks at Northern Ireland sea ports on some products from Great Britain, effectively creating a new trade border in the Irish Sea.

Map of the the UK showing how goods travelling from GB into NI and onward to the Republic of Ireland.
1px transparent line

Unionist parties, including the DUP, argue this has led to extra costs and unnecessary delays, as well as undermining the union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Unionist parties, including the DUP, argue that this has led to extra costs and unnecessary delays, as well as undermining the union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

What could be in the new legislation?

In May, the foreign secretary said a new law would be introduced to change the post-Brexit trade deal for Northern Ireland.

Liz Truss said this was not about scrapping the protocol but delivering on its objectives.

The new legislation is expected to aim to remove checks on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain, that are destined to remain there.

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Under the plans, there would be a dual regulatory regime established, allowing businesses in Northern Ireland to chose between sticking to either EU or UK standards, as well as UK VAT and state aid rules applying in Northern Ireland.

It is also expected there would be a more limited rule for the European Court of Justice.

‘Belligerent and begrudging’

On Sunday, RTÉ reported that the Republic of Ireland’s foreign affairs minister said he believed the legislation threatened the relationship between the UK and Irish governments.

“My message to the UK government is this is a mistake, and to move away from unilaterally introducing legislation which breaches international law,” said Simon Coveney.

He added that instead Britain should “come to the negotiating table where they will have a willing partner in the EU and in Ireland” to solve outstanding issues.

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry MP described the legislation as being “contrary to the interests of Northern Ireland”.

He said the government had taken a “belligerent and begrudging approach” which had been a major obstacle.

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader Colum Eastwood said the government was “fooling nobody” in relation to the new law.

“Throughout the Brexit process, this government has refused to put the needs of people in the north first and reach an agreement that will benefit both sides,” he said.

Last week, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) said that the protocol is “a problem which needs solved.”

Meanwhile, Jim Allister, the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party, said the protocol in its current form was “dismantling the union”.

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