London drops plan for bill to override NI protocol

The UK government appears to have shelved plans to introduce a bill that would override the controversial Northern Ireland protocol. [Mark_Taylor66 / Pixabay]

The UK government appears to have shelved plans to introduce a bill that would override the controversial Northern Ireland protocol.

Government officials confirmed on Thursday (5 May) that the Queen’s speech next Tuesday, 10 May, which sets out the government’s legislative plans for the next year, will not include a law to scrap the protocol, despite weeks of speculation that Boris Johnson’s government was planning to do so.

The Queen’s speech, which commences each new session of the UK parliament, is expected to include commitments to upholding the Good Friday Agreement that has underpinned the peace process for the past 24 years.

While legislation related to the Protocol is not to be included, the government has not ruled out tabling a bill in the future.

The Protocol introduced customs checks on goods being exported from Great Britain to the island of Ireland in order to ensure that there is no hard border in Ireland.

The Johnson government negotiated and agreed upon it as part of the UK’s exit from the EU. Still, the government has since said that it disrupts trade and risks undermining Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

UK and EU officials have been engaged in talks aimed at improving the functioning of the Protocol but little progress has been made and these negotiations are on hold pending the establishment of a new Northern Ireland executive following legislative elections on Thursday.

On Thursday, voters in Northern Ireland went to the polls to elect members of the devolved Northern Ireland assembly, with polls suggesting that Sinn Fein, which supports a united Ireland, will emerge as the largest party when the results are declared on Sunday.

Johnson and other ministers, including Brexit Opportunities<inister Jacob Rees Mogg have in recent months repeatedly threatened to unilaterally scrap the Protocol, a move which the European Commission says would be a breach of international law and put into jeopardy the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement that came into force in January 2021.

Although the Protocol is fiercely opposed by the main unionist parties, who support Northern Ireland remaining in the UK, with the Democratic Unionist Party’s party leader Jeffrey Donaldson insisting that it be abolished, surveys suggest that the Northern Irish people are more sanguine about it. Two-thirds agree that there should be a special arrangement to manage the effects of Brexit.

Research published on Thursday by the UK in a Changing Europe academic thinktank found that 52% of respondents in Northern Ireland believed that the protocol was ‘a good thing’. In comparison, 51% thought it had a positive impact on the Northern Irish economy. However, similar majorities of 57% and 51% said that they saw the Protocol as harming Northern Ireland’s status within the UK and the UK’s own internal market.

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