Northern Ireland: Mary Lou McDonald criticises Boris Johnson
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss have reportedly given the green light for a major new piece of legislation, which would allow the Government to unilaterally scrap parts of the existing Northern Ireland protocol. The deal was originally agreed between the UK and European Union (EU) in October 2019. But for several years now politicians in Britain have been seeking amendments to remove what’s been described as an Irish Sea border.
On Tuesday, Ms Truss is expected to make a statement announcing the UK’s intention to bring in new legislation.
She had previously said Britain’s “preference has always been for a negotiated solution” but alternative action would be sought if “solutions cannot be found”.
The pressure on Downing Street to deliver results has ramped up in the past fortnight as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is refusing to nominate for an executive in Northern Ireland, until its concerns on the protocol have been addressed.
So, if the new legislation is passed and ends with the protocol being broken, what would happen next?
Ministers are aware altering the protocol outside of negotiations with the EU could result in legal implications.
The Northern Ireland protocol is part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement – an international treaty – and as such is governed by the relevant courts in that domain.
One of the reported changes involves transferring oversight from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to UK courts.
The Government risks breaking international law by pushing through the change, and would likely result in repercussions.
The threat of legal action has concerned ministers, despite the Government’s chief legal adviser, Suella Braverman, approving plans to scrap large parts of the protocol with emergency legislation.
Former prime minister Theresa May has also cautioned that tearing up sections of the protocol could harm Britain’s reputation for abiding by international law.
Speaking in the Commons, Ms May said the Government needed to consider the “wider sense of what such a move would say about the United Kingdom and its willingness to abide by treaties which it has signed”.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has told Northern Ireland Prime Minister Micheál Martin that the situation is now “very serious”.
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Any new legislation that will be announced by the Government is expected to give MPs the power to switch off border checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The protocol currently allows for goods to flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and removes the threat of a hard border.
But the arrangement has also resulted in – what’s been labelled as – an Irish Sea border.
Goods which arrive into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are now being subjected to more stringent checks and controls.
The DUP is particularly keen for this aspect to be changed to align Belfast much closer with Britain than the EU.
Britain now looks likely to break away from the original agreement, however.
The UK and the EU have always been able to activate Article 16 of the protocol, should either feel it’s leading to significant issues.
The component sets out the process for taking unilateral “safeguard” measures, which in reality would amount to suspending parts of the deal.
Specifically, Article 16 stated safeguard measures can be taken if the protocol is leading to serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties” that are liable to persist.
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