Northern Ireland news

Warning 'astonishing' move to legislate on protocol could leave north in 'dangerous' place

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill has warned of 'uncertainty and instability' following UK plans to act unilaterally on the protocol. Picture by Liam McBurney/ PA
Paul Ainsworth

THE British government legislating to override parts of the NI Protocol puts the north in a "very dangerous place", Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill has warned.

Political parties have offered mixed reactions to yesterday's confirmation by UK foreign secretary Liz Truss that her government will introduce a law to change the post-Brexit deal signed with the EU in 2019.

It is feared the move will spark a trade war with the EU, but Ms Truss said it was being done to "find a solution that can command the broadest possible cross-community support" in the north.

However, Ms O'Neill told radio listeners on both sides of the border yesterday of her concerns, stating on RTE's Morning Ireland that it placed the north in "a very dangerous place".

She later said the north was caught "in a game of chicken" due to the UK's plans.

"The behaviour of the British government and Boris Johnson in terms of initiating again legislation to override an international agreement does not bode well for a good faith negotiation and I think that puts us in jeopardy in terms of the uncertainty and instability that it provides for us here," she told BBC Radio Ulster.

She added that the DUP's stance of refusing to enter a Stormont Executive without the removal of the Irish Sea border was "shameful".

However, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said the new legislation plan was a "welcome if overdue step" towards solving the crisis.

"We hope to see progress on a bill in order to deal with these matters in days and weeks, not months. As the legislation progresses we will take a graduated and cautious approach," he told the House of Commons.

"We want to see the Irish Sea border removed and the government honouring its commitment in the New Decade, New Approach agreement to protect Northern Ireland's place in the UK internal market.

"The statement today indicates this will be covered in the legislation."

Meanwhile, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry labelled the legislation proposal "unwanted and unwarranted".

The North Down MP added: "Indeed, it may prove to be counterproductive and destructive. Much of the rationale cited by the government is disingenuous".

Mr Farry warned the proposals would also "break and undermine international law, while "risking a trade war with the EU at a time when the UK economy is weak and vulnerable".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called the plan "absolutely astonishing", adding: "The foreign secretary has confirmed that she's going to go against the majority, despite what she might say, the majority of citizens in Northern Ireland who support the protocol, by ripping up an international agreement".

However, UUP leader Doug Beattie said yesterday Ms Truss' proposals were "a step towards fixing the protocol in a pragmatic way".

He added: "I welcome that the foreign secretary has said the government’s preferred option remains a negotiated outcome, but it is important to know that the UK government is prepared to act to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market and remove the Irish Sea border as well as protecting the hard fought for Belfast Agreement".

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