UK’s reported changes to NI protocol criticized as breach of international law

Reports that the UK government is considering introducing new legislation that would allow it to make sweeping changes to the Northern Ireland protocol have been criticized by northern nationalist parties as a breach of international law.

The Financial Times reported on Friday that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had in principle approved plans to introduce a bill that would give the UK unilateral power to disable key elements of the protocol in UK law. , including border controls for goods traveling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Responding on social media, Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s deputy leader, said that ‘the Conservatives are completely out of touch with the majority of people in the North who support the Protocol, which is a direct consequence of Brexit.

“Once again, any unilateral action on the protocol would derail talks with the EU and violate international law which must be respected,” she said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it demonstrated that a government “led by ministers who broke the laws of Covid-19, [who] found to have breached international law in a “limited manner”…now provide for further breaches of an international agreement that cannot be trusted. »

He said Mr Johnson was ‘desperate to deflect attention from the political turmoil he is going through’ over the so-called Partygate scandal and was to strengthen his position in his own party and strengthen the position of the DUP before an election.

In a statement, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson reaffirmed the party’s position on the Northern Irish protocol, saying it was “well known”.

“The protocol is not supported by trade unionists and it must be replaced by arrangements that respect NI’s place in the UK,” he said.

A senior DUP source was cautious and said the party would wait to see the details of any legislation, but given that no Unionist MPs in the last Assembly backed the protocol, they saw it as recognition by the British government that it had to find a solution for the protocol and it was time for Brussels and Dublin to recognize in the same way that the protocol was undermining stability in Northern Ireland.

Patience is running out

Unionists are opposed to the Northern Ireland Protocol – the part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which avoided a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea – because that they argue that it has caused economic harm and undermined its Constitutional position as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI told the Irish Times his understanding was that the drafting of the legislation was “significantly advanced” but that the response from businesses would depend on its content.

“At the moment we have unilateral extensions to grace periods, if UK legislation seeks to make them permanent we would find it difficult to discuss,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone in business in Northern Ireland would believe that applying the full rigors of EU customs and SPS laws to trade between Britain and Northern Ireland is possible or feasible. , so our preference would be very clearly that people would come to compromise and agree.

“It looks like the UK Government’s patience to make this happen is running out and they want to try to move the process forward in a meaningful way for national and Northern Irish political reasons.

“If it’s about putting in those grace periods permanently, it would be hard to argue with us, but if it goes any further and it’s something that jeopardizes the only unique advantage that Northern Ireland Nord has had in its 101-year history, so that would be problematic for us,” he said.