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THE UK GOVERNMENT this evening launched legislation to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.  

The Bill would see customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain effectively scrapped and would give UK government ministers the power to change almost every aspect of the text.

The Irish government and the EU made clear that the step would represent a breach of international law, with the EU now considering legal action against Britain 

Here’s what happened: 

European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell has said the UK’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill casts an “unnecessary shadow on EU-UK cooperation, undermining trust and credibility”.

“At a time when we are facing growing disregard for international rules and commitments allies and partners should stick together,” he said. 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has called the UK’s Bill to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol a “breach of trust” that is “not acceptable for the EU”.

“With today’s draft legislation on the NI Protocol, London is unilaterally breaking agreements. And doing so for motives easy to see through,” she said in a tweet. 

“This is not acceptable for the #EU. To this breach of trust, we will stand united in our response.

“We as #EU have put concrete proposals for solutions on the table. With a firm view to: Citizens & businesses who benefit from the EU single market every day. And the preservation of the #GoodFridayAgreement.

Peace & prosperity on the island of Ireland are not a pawn. 

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he has spoken to UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss about “the need to continue negotiations with the EU to find solutions” over the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

So what’s in the Bill presented this evening and what’s the reaction been?

We’ve just published a piece summing it all up: 

Goods arriving through the green channel would move free of customs or regulatory red tape while the requirements of the Protocol would continue to apply to red channel produce.

Goods banned under the Protocol, such as certain types of plants and seeds, would be allowed to travel into the North through the green channel, as long as they remained in the region.

Red channel goods shipped to Northern Ireland would still have to apply EU customs codes and, if relevant, undergo single market agri-food checks.

Read the full article here.

Is this legal?

The UK Government has repeatedly said that what they are doing is legal, something at odds with the EU’s view.

The UK Government has claimed its move is justified under international law because of the “genuinely exceptional situation”.

The legal position argues the move is necessary because the protocol is currently not protecting the commitments to the Good Friday Agreement.

It says: “The Government recognises that necessity can only exceptionally be invoked to lawfully justify non-performance of international obligations.

“This is a genuinely exceptional situation and it is only in the challenging, complex and unique circumstances of Northern Ireland that the Government has, reluctantly, decided to introduce legislative measures which, on entry into force, envisage the non-performance of certain obligations.

“It is the Government’s position that in light of the state of necessity, any such non-performance of its obligations contained in the Withdrawal Agreement and/or the protocol as a result of the planned legislative measures would be justified as a matter of international law.

“This justification lasts as long as the underlying reasons for the state of necessity are present. The current assessment is that this situation and its causes will persist into the medium to long term.”

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic has said the EU views the UK Government’s decision to table legislation over-riding elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol with “significant concern”.

Speaking at the commission headquarters in Brussels, Mr Sefcovic said the unilateral action by the UK could put the access of Northern Ireland businesses to the EU single market at risk.

He said the commission would now look at restarting “infringement proceedings” against the UK which have been on hold since September 2021.

Looking at the Bill itself, here are the main proposals as quoted directly from the published legislation: 

This Act—

  • Provides that certain specified provision of the Northern Ireland Protocol does not have effect in the United Kingdom
  • Gives Ministers of the Crown powers to provide that other provision of the Northern Ireland Protocol does not have effect in the United Kingdom;
  • Provides that enactments, including the Union with Ireland Act 1800 and the Act of Union (Ireland) 1800, are not to be affected by provision of the Northern Ireland Protocol that does not have effect in the United Kingdom;
  • Gives Ministers of the Crown powers to make new law in connection with the Northern Ireland Protocol (including where provision of the Protocol does not have effect in the United Kingdom).

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill presented in the House of Commons

The controversial NI Protocol Bill has been presented to the House of Commons this evening. 

The second reading of the Bill will take place tomorrow. 

You can read the whole Bill here

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said it was right that the UK Government acted on the protocol.

He said his party would consider the proposals against seven tests the DUP laid out for judging efforts to remove the “Irish Sea border”.

“We will obviously read that Bill with interest,” he said.

“I believe that finally we are now seeing the kind of action that is required to begin the process of removing the barriers to trade within the United Kingdom to restoring Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.”

Donaldson said the EU’s negotiating mandate was “so limited” it could not agree to the changes that were required to the protocol.

“We believe it is right that the UK Government takes this action, the UK Government has a primary responsibility to protect the integrity of the United Kingdom and its internal market, whilst at the same time making reasonable proposals that offer protection to the European Union and their single market,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill has said that Boris Johnson’s plan to amend the Northern Ireland Protocol is “reckless and disgraceful”.

Speaking to the media at Stormont, O’Neill said: “Today’s action by Boris Johnson in Westminster is absolutely reckless, it is disgraceful, it does nothing to serve the interests of the people here.

“It flies in the face of an international agreement which he himself negotiated. It is in clear breach of international law.”

She added: “The reality is that the protocol is working. Clearly, what we want here is certainty and stability.

“We are 40 days out from the election and yet we don’t have an Executive formed because the DUP are blocking the formation of an Executive.

“I don’t think that is acceptable to the public while they are dealing with a cost-of-living crisis.”

brexit Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney speaking outside Government Buildings. Source: PA

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said the response to the UK government’s Bill to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol will be “incremental”.

“I think they will certainly make a statement later on today when the legislation is published that will express concern as I have done,” he told reporters outside Government Buildings. 

“They will assess the legalities of the legislation and get independent legal advice on that because I think the view will be that this is a breach of international law because it is setting aside parts of an international treaty.”

He said in the last 12 months, the EU has shown “a willingness to compromise, a willingness to show flexibility, to view the implementation of the protocol differently, to respond to concerns being raised in Northern Ireland.”

So I think this would be a combination of diplomacy, a willingness to negotiate. But also, I think, a very clear warning that if the British government continues to take this legislation through Parliament and successfully turns it into law, well, then I think the EU will be forced to act to protect a member state – Ireland -  from the consequences of a breach of an international treaty, which has significant consequences for Ireland, in terms of our own place in the EU single market.

Coveney also said when Europe should be working together in response to Russian aggression, it is instead being “forced, because of UK action” to respond to “what we certainly see as a breach of international law”.

“I don’t think there’s any other way to describe this. If you are legislating, to set aside elements of an international treaty, which is international law, well then you’re breaking international law. I presume the British government will have some justification for that. I don’t believe that will be valid, but let’s see what the lawyers say on that.”

He said there will be members of the Conservative Party who will think the actionis “abhorrent”.

“I, like everybody else, have seen the concern that has been expressed within the Conservative Party at this course of action,” he said.

I think it does an awful lot of damage to Britain’s international reputation.

Of course, the precedent that is being set here to disapply international law, and let’s not forget international law that the British Government was central to actually writing and agreeing and ratifying, I think is something that is abhorrent to many in the Conservative Party.

“My language had been blunt and I think it needs to be. For most of my working life as minister for foreign affairs my job is to be a diplomat, but there are times when I think I need to call things out for what they are.”

52 of 90 MLAs sign letter to Johnson rejecting legislation to amend Protocol

Stormont MLAS from Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party have joined together to write to Boris Johnson expressing their opposition to his government’s “reckless” Protocol bill.

The letter has been signed by 52 of the 90 MLAs, including all nationalist members of the Assembly and all Alliance Party members, who designate as ‘other’. No unionist MLAs signed the letter.

It states that the signatories “reject in the strongest possible terms your government’s reckless new protocol legislation, which flies in the face of the expressed wishes of not just most businesses, but most people in Northern Ireland”.

“Whilst not ideal, the protocol currently represents the only available protections for Northern Ireland from the worst impacts of a hard Brexit.”

While we share a desire to see the arrangements work as smoothly as possible, the way to achieve this is through engagement with the European Union. It is clear that solutions are available and deliverable – as have already been delivered in the area of medicines – but this must be on the basis of trust and the rule of law rather than law breaking and unilateral abrogation of treaty obligations.

“It is also deeply frustrating that you and your ministers continue to misrepresent our desire to see smooth implementation as an endorsement of your Government’s reckless actions on the Protocol – it is categorically not.”

Sinn Féin, SDLP and Alliance jointly write to Boris Johnson to condemn ‘reckless’ Protocol bill

Stormont MLAs from Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party have joined together to write to Boris Johnson expressing their opposition to his government’s “reckless” Protocol bill.

The letter has been signed by 52 of the 90 MLAs, including all nationalist members of the Assembly and all Alliance Party members, who designate as ‘other’.

No unionist MLAs signed the letter.

The letter to Johnson states that the signatories “reject in the strongest possible terms your government’s reckless new protocol legislation, which flies in the face of the expressed wishes of not just most businesses, but most people in Northern Ireland”.

It continues that “whilst not ideal, the protocol currently represents the only available”.

While we share a desire to see the arrangements work as smoothly as possible, the way to achieve this is through engagement with the European Union. It is clear that solutions are available and deliverable – as have already been delivered in the area of medicines – but this must be on the basis of trust and the rule of law rather than law breaking and unilateral abrogation of treaty obligations.

In response to the letter DUP MP Sammy Wilson tweeted:

“Not one Unionist MLA supports the Northern Ireland Protocol. Power sharing will not be restored until decisive action is taken to remove the Irish Sea Border. There will be no return to the status quo.”

LIVE: Taoiseach decries UK action on protocol after Johnson insists it's 'not a big deal'

My colleague Christina Finn reports that the Taoiseach Micheál Martin has called out British complaints that the EU is inflexible. 

‘I think it’s a it’s very regrettable for a country like the United Kingdom to renege on an international treaty, it does represent a new low point because the natural expectation of democratic countries like ourselves, UK and all across Europe is that we honor international agreements that we enter into, and this agreement was ratified by the British Parliament, it was approved by the British Prime Minister, I’ve had this discussion with him.

“And in our view, the only way to resolve issues around the operation of the protocol is to have substantive negotiations between the United Kingdom Government and the European Union.

“And we do not accept the presentation by the British government and certain ministers to the effect that European Union is inflexible. That is not the case,” he said. 

irelands-prime-minister-taoiseach-micheal-martin-looks-on-during-a-news-conference-at-the-grand-central-hotel-after-speaking-to-northern-ireland-party-leaders-regarding-issues-surrounding-the-north Source: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Martin added that after the Assembly elections, people did anticipate that there will be substantive negotiations.

“But the British government is still saying it wants those substantive negotiations with the European Union. And I would say to the British government, enter into those discussions now. 

He said Europe wants the negotiations and has been flexible, and wants to find a resolution to these issues.

“Essentially, announcing the unilateral breaching of an international agreement is pretty serious stuff and can’t be, you know, just sort of put to one side. It’s a very serious issue because it goes to the heart of the issue of trust. And the European Union needs to have a trusted partner to negotiate with,” the Taoiseach concluded. 

Diplomacy through twitter is continuing. Taoiseach Micheál Martin has just tweeted this – he has also criticised the risks of unilateral action by the British Government.

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said he has chatted to European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic.

  

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has directly responded to this tweet by  Ulster Unionist Party MLA for South Antrim Steve Aiken. 

We may be waiting a bit longer than we had envisaged for the bill to actually be read, while it had been pencilled in for after 330pm, it might actually be closer to 6pm. 

If were unsure whether Boris Johnson could say with a straight face that his government’s plans to unilaterally amend the Northern Ireland Protocol were “not a big deal”, here is the evidence: 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Another phonecall, this time between Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne and the UK’s junior minister minister in the Foreign Office James Cleverly. 

Following the phonecall, Byrne said that “dialogue is the way forward”.

Working together – and bringing the political parties together – is the proven method of ensuring social and economic progress in Northern Ireland.

In a morning of phonecalls, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said he warned UK Secretary Liz Truss that “unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust and a formula for uncertainty”.

Protocol row also hitting UK economy

On the less succinct and more wordy end, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has also been expressing its concerns over the Protocol row. 

The CBI, which is essentially the UK’s version of Ibec, today accused the UK government for “grandstanding” instead of negotiating with the EU to resolve the dispute. 

The CBI’s argument is that the Protocol row is leading to uncertainty and that this is putting off potential investors from investing in UK businesses.

It says that while it believes that Brussels was being “inflexible”, London’s unilateral response was “unhelpful”.

In today’s edition of our daily business briefing the Morning Memo, I took at look at how the the UK economy is entering a pretty worrying period. 

It was revealed today that the country’s economy shrank for the second successive month, sparking fears of a recession. 

The UK’s Office for National Statistics put that decline at 0.3% of GDP for April, outpacing the 0.1% fall recorded in March.

The woes for the British economy were put into further focus last week when the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) forecast that Russia would be the only major economy to perform worse than the UK next year. 

The OECD’s overall prediction was of anaemic growth across the world for 2023, with the Eurozone at 1.6%, the US at 1.2%, the UK at 0% and Russia at -4.1%. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is among those who’s been reacting, “pretty serious stuff” is his succinct description of it all. 

Morning, Rónán Duffy here for the next part of today’s coverage.

The actual presentation of the controversial bill by Liz Truss is expected some time after 3.30pm but there’s plenty of debate and reaction already. 

UK tearing up agreement would cause ‘widespread outrage’ – Eamon Ryan

Transport minister Eamon Ryan has been speaking to journalists today, saying the EU will “work as one” to prevent the Good Friday Agreement from being undermined.

Ryan said the UK legislation will take a long time to be passed by the House of Commons.

national-maternity-hospital Source: PA

The Green Party leader said the UK government would provoke “widespread outrage”, in the EU and the United States, if it starts to “tear up international agreements that they’ve signed”.

“I think that [international] pressure is what we have to work on. To make sure, in this long drawn out process that seems to be about to start, that they don’t actually undermine the Good Friday Agreement, undermine our border and our arrangements on this island, and undermine the very good working relationship we have with businesses north and south,” Ryan said.

“I think in the end this will be a political decision. And the politics of proceeding as they are planning will actually be seen to be flawed and mistaken. And they will have to turn and reverse their position,” the transport minister added.

Johnson government on ‘wrong track’ – UK Labour

The leader of the UK Labour Party says the British government is “going down the wrong track” with its efforts to alter the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Keir Starmer said: “I think the answer to this is to accept there are some problems in the way the protocol works but they can be resolved around the negotiating table with statecraft, with guile, with trust.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have those in the current Prime Minister.

“They won’t be resolved with legislation that breaches international law and that, frankly, will impede the negotiations that, in the end, will be needed to settle this,” Starmer said.

Simon Coveney is back on Twitter, this time he’s arguing with the UUP’s protocol spokesman Steve Aiken. The unionist accused Coveney of being part of the “historic low point” in Anglo-Irish relations.

The foreign affairs minister responded by, again, saying that the UK is not engaging with the EU to find a solution to the protocol deadlock.

‘Johnson’s mess

ITV’s Robert Peston has published a withering take on the actions of the Johnson government and a downbeat analysis of its economic impact on the UK.

“Economic relations with the EU, still the biggest market for our exporters by a country mile, were already bad. They are about to become appallingly bad,” Peston writes.

The Times newspaper in the UK is reporting that British ministers have told the DUP that they must re-establish full power-sharing in Northern Ireland before the bill seeking to override the protocol is brought before parliament.

The paper cites sources that said the UK government needed the unionist party to move as a demonstration, to the EU and the US, that the problems over the protocol can be fixed.

Protocol plans ‘not a big deal’ – Johnson

boris-johnson-visit-to-cornwall Source: PA

UK prime minister Boris Johnson says his government’s controversial plans to override the protocol are “not a big deal”.

Speaking to broadcasters on a farm in Cornwall, Johnson said: “First of all, the protocol isn’t actually even yet being implemented. And it’s because it’s all been put into cold storage while we try and manage it, were it to be implemented, it would do even more damage diverting trade and that is upsetting the balance of the Belfast Good Friday agreement.

“We’ve got a problem at the moment, which is in Northern Ireland, the Stormont assembly, the government of Northern Ireland, can’t meet because of the effects of the protocol. What it does is it creates unnecessary barriers on trade east-west.

“What we can do is fix that. It’s not a big deal, we can fix it in such a way as to remove those bureaucratic barriers but without putting up barriers on trade moving north-south in the island of Ireland as well.”

Liz Truss referenced “the people of NI” in her tweet.

However, polling has shown that a narrow majority of people in Northern Ireland believe the protocol is a “good thing”. 

Another poll found that 63% of people in the North agree that the protocol provides Northern Ireland with a “unique set of post-Brexit economic opportunities compared to the rest of the UK which if exploited could benefit Northern Ireland”. 

Meanwhile, here’s Truss’s tweet about her phone call with Coveney.

The UK Foreign Secretary says the British government “remain open to negotiations with the EU, but we cannot wait to fix the issues facing the people of NI.”

Coveney has published a spiky tweet about his phone call with Truss. The foreign affairs minister said today that the Truss’s legislation “marks a particular low point in the UK’s approach to Brexit”.

Good morning and welcome to another day of Brexit antics. Céimin Burke reporting here as UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is poised to publish legislation to unilaterally alter parts of the UK’s withdrawal deal with the EU.

Simon Coveney held a 12-minute phone call with Truss this morning, at the request of the UK Foreign Office.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs warned his counterpart that unilaterally altering the protocol will breach international law and “deeply damage” relationships.

You can read the full story here.

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