Northern Ireland news

Stormont consent not required on Withdrawal Agreement, says secretary of state

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald had warned the party would block the formation of a new Stormont sssembly if the final Brexit deal were to allow a unionist veto. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

SECRETARY of state Julian Smith has insisted the Withdrawal Agreement does not need the consent of the Stormont assembly in order to comply with the Good Friday accord.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald had warned the party would block the formation of a new Stormont sssembly if the final Brexit deal were to allow a unionist veto.

British prime minister Boris Johnson gave ground on the consent issue in last week's negotiations with the EU, having originally proposed a mechanism in line with the DUP's thinking.

Assembly consent for extending an initial four-year period for the arrangements, which include the creation of an all-island regulatory zone on goods, will now be done on the basis of a simple Stormont majority.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson told the House of Commons he "cannot emphasise enough" how important the principle of consent is to unionists.

"The idea that a decision of the momentous nature of the one we will be expected to take in four years' time does not reflect adequately the principle of consent - as expressed in the Belfast Agreement - has serious implications for our ability to support the restoration of devolution without that safeguard.

"And I say with all seriousness to the Secretary of State, if this issue is not addressed it goes well beyond this Brexit deal."

But Mr Smith dismissed the notion that the lack of veto would be any threat to the Good Friday agreement.

"This protocol is for a reserved matter. It is not for the assembly," he said.

"The Belfast Agreement is extremely clear that there will be matters which will not be subject to the consent mechanism in the assembly."

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