Northern Ireland news

Former Attorney General John Larkin advising unionists on protocol court challenge

Former Attorney General John Larkin. Picture by Paul Faith/PA Wire

STORMONT'S former attorney general is advising unionists hoping to challenge the Irish Sea border in the courts.

John Larkin QC, who stepped down as the executive's legal adviser last June, is the senior counsel providing guidance on constitutional law ahead of a potential Judicial Review of the protocol.

The challenge has begun with a solicitor's letter – known as a pre-action protocol – to Secretary of State Brandon Lewis sent on Friday and signed by former Labour MP Baroness Kate Hoey, TUV leader Jim Allister and former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib.

The leadership of the DUP and Ulster Unionists last night backed the legal bid.

A public statement supporting the challenge from DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Lord Nigel Dodds, alongside MPs Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Sammy Wilson, came as it emerged that a separate group of so far unnamed party members, thought to be mainly MLAs, also plans a High Court action against the Irish Sea border

The DUP statement said the protocol had "driven a coach and horses through both the Act of Union and the Belfast Agreement".

UUP leader Steve Aiken said he was supporting the challenge because the "absurdities of the protocol affect everyone in Northern Ireland".

The ramping up of opposition to the Irish Sea border came as former Stormont First Minister Lord David Trimble said he feels "personally betrayed" by the protocol, while warning that it risks a return of violence in the north.

Calling for the scrapping of the element of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement that has led to regulatory checks on goods arriving from Britain, the former UUP leader and Good Friday Agreement negotiator said it did not protect the 1998 peace accord but instead “wilfully tears it up”.

He echoed claims by DUP MP Sammy Wilson that there have been "threats to inspectors at ports" and cites "empty supermarket shelves" as evidence of disruption to east-west trade.

The Tory peer warned that the “unintended but unquestionably escalating tensions” created by checks on goods arriving from Britain “represent a real and present danger to the lives of people living in Northern Ireland”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the legal challenge as "ill-judged" and creating greater uncertainty for businesses.

"I'm sure the courts will decide what we all, including the DUP, already know – the protocol is necessary because of the hard Brexit that they supported," the Foyle MP said.

“Political leaders should come together and make the most of the arrangements. To sustain the uncertainty of the last five years is no solution.”

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