UK PM Poised to Give Green Light to Bill on Northern Ireland Protocol
By Staff, Agencies
Boris Johnson could give the go-ahead to controversial legislation overriding parts of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland this week as he flies to Belfast for crunch meetings.
The British prime minister is understood to be poised to start pushing through changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which requires trade checks in the Irish Sea, on Tuesday.
He will be negotiating for the return of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing devolved government, which collapsed when the Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] refused to re-enter it following recent elections.
The protocol was set up to ensure free trade continued across the Irish land border after Brexit, but the DUP says it undermines the principles of devolution and its position in the UK.
Assembly elections on May 5 returned a majority for parties who accept the protocol, including Sinn Féin, who are now the largest party.
Despite signing up to it as part of the wider deal, the UK government is critical of the protocol and says the EU has been applying it too rigidly.
Ministers want to scrap checks and paperwork between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and end pressure on Northern Irish businesses to ensure goods remaining north of the border comply with EU standards, not just British ones.
The EU has ruled out renegotiating the text of the protocol but has proposed to relax rules around food imports if the UK commits to extra safeguards preventing British products crossing into the Republic of Ireland.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Johnson said the protocol was out of date and did not reflect the struggles of the post-COVID era, war in Ukraine and a cost of living crisis.
He insisted he was open to further talks to save a deal which was negotiated ‘in good faith’, accusing those who want to scrap the protocol of ‘focusing on the wrong thing’.
But he also suggested he would be forced into unilateral action if the EU did not come back to the negotiating table.
He added: ‘We have been told by the EU that it is impossible to make the changes to the protocol text to actually solve these problems in negotiations, because there is no mandate to do so.
‘We will always keep the door wide open to genuine dialogue.
‘And we will continue to protect the single market, as it has been protected throughout the existence of the protocol so far, and the open border with the Republic of Ireland which will always be of paramount importance.
‘I hope the EU’s position changes. If it does not, there will be a necessity to act.
‘The Government has a responsibility to provide assurance that the consumers, citizens and businesses of Northern Ireland are protected in the long-term.
‘We will set out a more detailed assessment and next steps to Parliament in the coming days.’
An association of Northern Irish business leaders representing 14 trade bodies are said to have written to the prime minister urging him to rule out what they called a ‘nuclear option’.
A source told The Guardian: ‘It was being suggested that action was needed because business groups asked for it and trade was suffering because of the protocol.
‘We asked them specifically not to launch unilateral action. We do not need the nuclear option when we believe there is still a prospect of a deal.’
Johnson will also attempt to kick-start delivery of previous pledges relating to a stalled language and culture program, abortion services and the legacy of conflict in Northern Ireland.