Embattled Johnson faces rebel threat to protocol law

Boris Johnson faces challenging parliamentary arithmetic in Westminster in the coming weeks as his UK government prepares to table a new law to override the Northern Ireland protocol. [Shutterstock / Remizov]

Boris Johnson faces challenging parliamentary arithmetic in Westminster in the coming weeks as his UK government prepares to table a new law to override the Northern Ireland protocol.

The legislation, which intends to give the UK government powers to override parts of the protocol, including the imposition of customs checks on goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is expected to be published on Monday (13 June) and the government hopes to have it passed into law before the summer recess in July.

Johnson has been under pressure from the pressure group of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs, known as the European Research Group, and from the Democratic Unionist party to table legislation that will not only scrap the customs checks but also remove the role of the European Court of Justice.

However, despite Johnson’s Conservative party having an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons, the bill’s passage is unlikely to be straightforward.

The European Commission has warned that it would consider the bill a breach of international law, a position shared by some Conservative MPs, including Simon Hoare, who chairs the UK parliament’s Northern Ireland committee.

Johnson survived a confidence vote on Monday called by his own Conservative party following months of growing unhappiness with his leadership by 211 votes to 148.

That means that most backbench MPs not on the government payroll voted to oust him. The scale of the rebellion has left government whips fearing that many Conservative rebels could vote against the bill.

The bill will also likely struggle to get through the House of Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority. Although the Lords cannot veto legislation, they can delay its adoption by one year unless the government uses the Parliament Act to override the Lords.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has been in Dublin and Belfast over the last two days for meetings with political leaders, told reporters on Friday that he thought problems with the implementation of the protocol could be fixed through negotiations, “guile and hard work”.

On Friday, Starmer met with the leaders of the Social Democrat and Labour party and the Alliance Party, but not with leaders of the two main unionist parties who want the protocol to be overhauled or scrapped.

Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly were held in May, resulting in Sinn Fein, which supports a united Ireland, emerging as the largest party ahead of the DUP. However, the DUP has blocked the formation of a new devolved government and the reconstitution of the assembly, saying that its concerns about the protocol, which effectively carves Northern Ireland out of the UK’s own single market, are resolved.

“The issues with the protocol really do not justify the egregious breach of international law and international trust that the government are now embarking on via legislation basically at the behest of the DUP,” said Naomi Long, who leads the non-sectarian Alliance Party.

Long also urged the UK government to table legislation to prevent the DUP or another party from being able to “hold the institutions to ransom”.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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