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David Trimble is planning to take Theresa May's government to court over the backstop

The former NI First Minister claims the border backstop undermines the Belfast Agreement.

Image: PA Archive/PA Images

FORMER NORTHERN IRELAND First Minister David Trimble is planning to take the British government to court over the border backstop – claiming that it would undermine the Good Friday Agreement by imposing a ‘top-down’ bureaucratic structure on the island of Ireland.

The announcement comes as Theresa May prepares to deliver a speech on Brexit in Belfast this afternoon as part of a two-day visit to the North.

A spokesperson for the former Ulster Unionist Party leader, now a member of the House of Lords, said last night that he planned to initiate judicial review proceedings to ensure that the backstop protocol “is removed from the Withdrawal Agreement”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme Trimble said he was concerned at the way the agreement “turns the Belfast Agreement on its head”.

“The bit of the agreement you have to handle with care is cross-border arrangements, and we have to do that successfully.

But the EU has come in and in this exit agreement that they’ve negotiated, they, in the process of that, stripped out a number of competencies out of the devolved administration, out of the Belfast Agreement and put in place a number of top-down structures.

Trimble, who received the Nobel Peace Prize alongside SDLP leader John Hume for his work on the 1998 agreement, said that the backstop had originated as a result of fears in Brussels that “Ireland could become a back door whereby goods that don’t meet their regulatory standards come in”. 

He said that could be solved without the need for a hard border, but accused the British government of carrying out a ”raid on the Belfast Agreement provisions”. 

The backstop, he said, could do serious damage to Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK. 

Asked about the risk that not coming to an agreement on Brexit could inadvertently bounce the island of Ireland into a hard border situation he said: 

“That’s the paradox of it.” Later in the interview he said:

Things can happen by accident and people overplay their hands and I think there’s been a bit of that.

Asked how likely his court challenge was, Trimble didn’t answer directly but said: “If it reminds people to keep their promises it will be a good thing.”

The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, reports that a crowd-funding page for Trimble’s challenge is set to be launched this morning with £5,000 already raised from private donors in the North. 

News of the legal challenge was announced yesterday by the pro-Brexit think tank Global Britain. 

“Lord Trimble says that alternative arrangements – as outlined in A Better Deal And A Better Future – should be put in place instead,” a press release said. 

The ‘Better Deal’ paper is an alternative Brexit plan published by backbench Tory MP Steve Baker, vice-chair of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group. 

Theresa May’s cabinet last November backed an agreement on the backstop that would see Northern Ireland aligned to some rules of the single market if alternative solutions could not be found by the end of the Brexit transition period in 2020. 

The revised backstop plan, which would also effectively keep the whole of the UK in a customs union with the EU until both parties no longer deemed it necessary, has been roundly rejected by Brexiteer MPs.

Last week those MPs lent their support to a new amendment proposing replacing the Irish backstop with unspecified “alternative arrangements”, as the proposal gained the support of a majority of the House of Commons. 

May said she would take this mandate back to Brussels and use it as a crowbar to try to reopen the sealed Withdrawal Agreement, which the EU has repeatedly said it would not do.

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