The Northern Ireland Protocol – five developments we learned this week

Fri 13 May 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

After a hiatus during campaigning for the recent Northern Ireland elections, the protocol came roaring back into the inboxes of politicians as talks between the UK and EU recommenced.

In what has been a whirlwind week on the NI Protocol front, here’s what we’ve learned.

1. Liz Truss wants to act

The foreign secretary this week said the government will bring in legislation that will give minsters powers to suspend chunks of the protocol, according to the FT.

Liz Truss is said to have tired of a lack of progress in negotiations, and the anti-protocol stance of the DUP (see below) has given fresh impetus to the sense that something has to change.

Officials are said to be working on drafting legislation which could be announced early next week, although it was left out of the Queen’s Speech.

2. Challenge to protocol is legal (the attorney general says)

Despite concerns that such legislation would mean the UK was breaking an international treaty, attorney general Suella Braverman issued legal advice this week that it was legal, reports the Independent.

She advised that legislation to ditch protocol checks on goods would be legally sound because of the “disproportionate and unreasonable” way it has been implemented.

However, former PM Theresa May said ditching the deal would undermine Britain’s position as a country that could be trusted to stick to agreements it signed.

3. No DUP power-sharing if protocol remains

Opposition to the protocol was central to the DUP’s election campaign, but since losing majority status in the NI Assembly to Sinn Fein, the party has confirmed that it will not join the power sharing agreement which is essential to Stormont operating.

Leader Jeffrey Donald maintains the party will not appoint ministers until the protocol issue is put to bed. He wants the government to trigger Article 16 to suspend the Brexit deal for NI.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has said that NI should not be held to ransom by the DUP and the British government, as reported in the Telegraph.

4. However the EU is not for moving

Following a conversation with Liz Truss yesterday, her counterpart Maros Sefcovic reiterated that the EU would not renegotiate the Protocol deal, and said the UK had to be more honest about what Boris Johnson had signed up to, reports the Independent.

“We in the EU never work with threats, we never work with blackmail, we try to work with constructive engagement and that is what I am pleading for,” he said.

Sefcovic, however, warned that Northern Ireland could lose access to the EU’s single market for goods if the UK acts unilaterally.

5. Lords could block the plan

Liz Truss’s plan could be delayed for up to a year by the House of Lords, claims a report in iNews. 

The foreign secretary is expected to make a statement early next week, setting out next steps to unilaterally scrap parts of the protocol.

While some measures could be introduced immediately, it would not be realised for months or even a year in its entirety.

Simon Hoare, the Tory chair of the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, told iNews: “I can’t see it getting through the Lords [quickly] – they have got a whole session to do it, this was not a manifesto commitment.”