Wednesday, August 17

Boris Johnson defends Northern Ireland protocol bill ahead of Commons vote | Northern Ireland

Boris Johnson has defended the government’s legislation disapplying parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, which will face its first hurdle in the House of Commons on Monday.

Speaking in Bavaria, where he is attending a G7 summit, the prime minister said: “What we’re trying to do is fix something that I think is very important to our country, which is the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. ”

He added: “You’ve got one community which feels that things really aren’t working in a way which they like or understand. You’ve got unnecessary barriers to trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. All we are saying is that you can get rid of those without in any way endangering the EU single market.”

I have suggested the changes that the bill will make possible could be in place by the end of this year.

MPs will have their first opportunity later on Monday to vote on the bill. The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has put the UK on a collision course with the EU by pressing ahead with the legislation, which will allow ministers to override parts of the agreement Johnson signed in 2019.

The foreign secretary set out her position in an article in the Financial Times on Monday. She said there was a “simple logic” for going ahead, despite claims the legislation will breach the free trade agreement the UK signed with the EU.

“We are moving forward with legislation to fix the specific problems that the protocol is causing while maintaining those parts that are working. This is both necessary and legal. All other options within the current EU mandate are currently exhausted,” she said.

Some Conservative backbenchers plan to object to the legislation, however, on the basis that it breaches the rule of law. When Truss presented it in parliament last month, Simon Hoare, the chair of the Northern Ireland select committee, told her: “Respect for the rule of law runs deep in our Tory veins. I find it extraordinary that a Tory government needs to be reminded of that.”

The bill would create a “green channel”, free of checks, for goods passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland that are not destined for the Republic; allow products to be sold in Northern Ireland under either EU or UK rules; and give UK ministers more power to alter tax and spending policies in Northern Ireland.

The EU has repeatedly suggested that its own proposals would resolve many of the worst delays at the Irish Sea border, accusing the UK of failing to engage with these properly.

Speaking on Sunday, the EU ambassador to the UK, João Vale de Almeida, called Truss’s legislation “illegal and unrealistic”. The EU has hit back by restarting legal action against the UK over the protocol.

The UK has said the legislation will not breach international law, on the basis that the protocol as it is currently being implemented is threatening the Good Friday Agreement.

The DUP has refused to take part in power-sharing at Stormont unless the issue of the protocol is resolved – though it is unclear whether the bill will satisfy the party’s demands.

The legislation is expected to pass its first hurdle in the House of Commons on Monday, but is likely to face strong opposition in the House of Lords, which has defeated the government several times in recent months.

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