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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks to journalists on his plane during a flight from Germany where he was attending the G7 Summit to the NATO Summit in the Spanish capital, Madrid on Tuesday. PA

Neale Richmond Boris' Protocol Bill is an insult to everyone in Northern Ireland and the EU

The Fine Gael TD says the latest Tory moves in Westminster show a blatant disregard for the will of the people.

THERE HAS BEEN a lot of talk recently about the British Government breaking international law in their response to the Brexit shenanigans. This intention has now been formalised, with the British Government’s legislation that overrides the Northern Ireland Protocol debated in the House of Commons this week.

This legislation violates their international obligations and puts the people, businesses and the peace in Northern Ireland in jeopardy. However, what exactly does this mean and how are the British Government putting Northern Ireland at risk?

Most of these Brexit moves come back to two things: the Good Friday Agreement and the EU Single Market. Taking the Good Friday Agreement first, the British Government are co-signatories of the Agreement and they have a responsibility to implement it and maintain peace in Northern Ireland. As such, any move that puts the Agreement at risk is a serious breach of this trust.

Impact on Northern Ireland

As we all know, peace in Northern Ireland was hard-won and is very fragile. Huge steps were taken to ensure that there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland so as to not re-stoke violence and the Protocol was designed to avoid this.

The Protocol keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU Single Market as well as the UK Internal Market. As such, goods that are entering Northern Ireland require checks to ensure they are suitable for entry to the EU Market. This is because the EU has high safety standards and these must be adhered to.

As the Protocol protects the Good Friday Agreement by avoiding a hard border in Ireland, and this legislation overrides the Protocol, the Agreement is therefore put at risk.

Simultaneously this legislation puts the EU Single Market at risk as it drops the need for many of the checks on goods entering Northern Ireland. What is being proposed is that there would be ‘green lanes’ for goods staying in Northern Ireland which would require no checks, and ‘red lanes’ for goods entering the EU which would require checks.

Given that there is no border infrastructure in Ireland, clearly, there is no way to police these required checks. Therefore, goods that do not meet the EU’s standards could easily enter Ireland and then move further into the EU.

That the British Government believes that businesses should be able to choose what checks they apply to their goods is staggering.

The rule of law

This legislation also seeks to remove the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in policing the Protocol, instead employing ‘independent arbitration’ to watch over its implementation.

Given the risk that the Single Market faces if the Protocol is incorrectly applied, the role of the CJEU is paramount and is a red line for the EU. While this may be ‘no big deal’ to Boris Johnson, it is a huge deal to the EU and frankly, will not be allowed. This goes hand in hand with the British Government’s claim that there is a ‘democratic deficit’ with the Protocol as, in their mind, rules are being imposed on Northern Ireland without consent and are settled by the EU.

Just because the British Government claims something to be true does not make it so. Claiming there is a democratic deficit when the European Commission Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič spent months engaging with businesses and the people of Northern Ireland on the Protocol, is insulting. To add insult to injury, the British Government has refused to engage in the EU negotiations for several months now, so this claim has no standing.

What we are now seeing is the UK Government blatantly ignoring the will of the people of Northern Ireland, negating their responsibilities and risking their reputation on the international stage all for the sake of internal party politics. After six years of Brexit shenanigans, this is the most disappointing move yet.

Neale Richmond is a Fine Gael TD and the party’s spokesperson on European Affairs.


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