Northern Ireland: UK slammed for 'lack of consent' over Brexit
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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told MPs last week the legislation would not scrap the protocol altogether, and would be legal under international law. She reiterated that the Government “can’t allow the situation to drift” during a recent visit to Northern Ireland. The European Union (EU) has said it will “respond with all measures at its disposal” if Britain moves ahead with the bill.
The Government has said the current protocol has enforced a so-called ‘Irish Sea Border’, distancing Belfast from the rest of Great Britain.
A row over its impact on trade has pushed MPs back to re-negotiate terms on the Brexit deal, but the EU has refused to concede any ground.
Ms Truss said the new law would make limited changes, such as freeing the movement of British made goods from “unnecessary bureaucracy” and regulatory barriers.
So, are Brexit discussions now over given the Government’s decision to make changes, outside of talks with the EU?
Despite tabling the new law, Ms Truss has maintained that her preference would be a negotiated outcome with the bloc.
The Foreign Secretary said “everybody in Northern Ireland recognises” there are issues that need to be addressed with the protocol, during a visit to County Antrim.
She added: “We’re not talking about scrapping it – we want to fix the issues but we simply can’t allow the situation to drift.
“We need to get the executive at Stormont back up and running.
“What we’ve been clear about is that the protocol is causing political instability.”
The protocol was agreed as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, which came into effect in February 2020.
While it ensured the continuation of free trade across the Irish land border, it also resulted in additional checks being placed on some goods, travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
But despite raising its concerns to EU officials, Britain has been unable to reach an agreement on new terms, leading to protracted negotiations.
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The Government’s hand has been partly forced due to the General Assembly elections, which were held in Northern Ireland at the start of May.
Sinn Fein was voted as the largest party in Stormont for the first time, since the country’s power sharing agreement was established in 1998.
By right, the party is entitled to nominate for the position of First Minister – a role which Michelle O’Neill is expected to fill.
But she will not become First Minister unless the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) nominates for the position of Deputy First Minister.
The DUP signalled it won’t do so, until the British Government acts over concerns about post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The problem for the Government is that Sinn Fein isn’t in support of changing the protocol altogether.
As part of its long-term ambitions, it hopes to unite Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and is insistent that free trade continues between the two nations.
Its position could weaken the Government’s hand at the negotiating table, and prevent a mutually agreed outcome from being achieved.
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