UK PM faces Unionist opposition to new Northern Ireland deal
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a damaging setback to his plans to rebuild EU-UK relations after the leading Unionist party in Northern Ireland said they would vote against his deal to replace the Northern Ireland protocol.
Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest group representing the pro-British unionist community, said in a statement on Monday (20 March) that “whilst representing real progress the ‘Stormont brake’ does not deal with the fundamental issue which is the imposition of EU law by the Protocol”.
UK lawmakers will vote on Wednesday (22 March) on the ‘Windsor Framework’ announced by Sunak and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The European Parliament will vote on the framework later this week and is expected to endorse it.
The new agreement would provide that goods travelling from Britain will not face customs checks if they are staying in Northern Ireland and would go through a ‘green lane’, while, products which are going to be moved across the border into the Republic of Ireland would be subject to a ‘red lane’ and customs checks.
Windsor Framework unlikely to be applied for ‘several months’, warn UK officials
The agreement unveiled by EU and UK to govern trade between Britain and the island of Ireland is unlikely to come into force for several months, officials have warned.
Meanwhile, the introduction of a new ‘Stormont brake’ could, in theory, allow the UK government to prevent new EU laws from applying to goods in Northern Ireland if requested by a third of the 108 lawmakers in the Northern Ireland assembly.
However, the DUP has complained that it does not apply to existing EU law and this could prompt Tory lawmakers from the ‘hard Brexit’ wing of the party to also vote against the government.
The European Research Group (ERG) of hard-Brexit Conservative lawmakers is due to set out its verdict on Tuesday.
The ‘Stormont brake’ is a clear attempt to encourage unionist support for the deal by addressing longstanding concerns in Northern Ireland about the democratic deficit at the heart of the Brexit agreement regarding EU laws that would continue to apply in Northern Ireland.
It would apply to amended or replaced EU legislation in the future, giving the unionist and nationalist communities in Northern Ireland the ability to oppose a new or revised EU law. However, the procedure of how this would operate remains unclear, prompting concern among hard Brexiteers and unionists that it would be impossible to use in practice.
The UK government has promised to provide further legal clarification on the use of the ‘brake’ ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
Although the agreement is almost certain to be passed on Wednesday, with the opposition Labour party having promised its support, failing to secure the support of the DUP would be a major setback for the UK government, particularly with the 25-year anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement rapidly approaching.
Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing government for more than a year after the DUP refused to form an administration with Sinn Fein, the main party which supports a united Ireland, until the protocol had been scrapped. Fresh assembly elections have been repeatedly delayed.