Northern Ireland

Stormont deal has not removed Irish Sea border, says ex-attorney general John Larkin

The former attorney general for Northern Ireland was commissioned by opponents of the agreement to assess the legal effect of the measures.

Jamie Bryson and Jim Allister stand on the steps of Stormont while each holding a page up to the camera
Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson (left) and TUV leader Jim Allister show the legal opinion

A former attorney general for Northern Ireland has rejected the contention that a British government deal to restore Stormont has removed an Irish Sea border.

John Larkin KC was commissioned by several vocal opponents of the agreement to assess the legal effect of the measures.

Key among the questions he was asked was whether the plan set out in the Safeguarding The Union command paper would restore the 1800 Acts of Union; whether they removed a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea; and do they ensure “zero checks and zero paperwork” for GB goods destined for Northern Ireland.

Mr Larkin argued that they achieved none of those objectives.

He also rejected claims that the package altered domestic laws enabling the application of EU laws in Northern Ireland and he found that the region would continue to be treated as an EU territory when it came to certain trading rules.

The legal opinion was commissioned by TUV leader Jim Allister, former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib, Baroness Kate Hoey and loyalist activist Jamie Bryson.

Mr Allister and Mr Bryson were at Parliament Buildings at Stormont on Friday to give their reaction to Mr Larkin’s findings.

The TUV leader said the opinion undermined the “spin” that has accompanied the Government deal which has convinced the DUP to return to devolution.

“We arrive at a situation where, despite all the spin, and all the hype, and all the pretence, and all the false claims about restoring our place within the United Kingdom, and the removal of the Irish Sea (border), when you apply the key legal analysis of this matter, then it doesn’t stand up,” he said.

Mr Allister warned that the existing post-Brexit arrangements would attempt to deliver a united Ireland by stealth.

Both men challenged DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to publish his own legal advice on the Government deal.

Mr Bryson was asked about the possibility of loyalist and unionist protests in opposition to the return of Stormont.

“It may well be the case that people take the opportunity to do that, and if they do, they should do it peacefully and lawfully, there’s a significant strength of feeling,” he said.

“But the important thing today is, here is our legal opinion, we have put our money where our mouth is, we can back up our legal opinion. Jeffrey Donaldson – publish your legal opinion and let’s see what you say.”