Law to axe Northern Ireland Brexit rules might take a YEAR to get through Parliament as Tory rebels vow to fight Government’s plans
- Ministers gear up for another Brexit battle with the Lords over Northern Ireland
- Some Tory rebels have already vowed to oppose legislation to ‘fix’ the Protocol
- Liz Truss says it would be ‘very positive’ if the UK could strike a deal with Brussels
- But she warns the Government can’t ‘delay’ its plans for unilateral action
Ministers are gearing up for another Brexit battle with the House of Lords amid fears their plans to override the Northern Ireland Protocol could take up to a year to become law.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has outlined how the UK will unilaterally overhaul post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland should negotiations with the EU continue to stall.
The Government is pursuing a twin-track approach to the Protocol by remaining open to further talks with Brussels. But it is also pushing ahead with legislation at Westminster to achieve reforms if those discussions go nowhere.
Boris Johnson has described the proposed legislation as ‘insurance’ should a negotiated settlement not be possible.
It today emerged that ministers were pressing ahead with the plans due to fears their bill could face a tortuous passage through the Lords.
Some Tory rebels have already vowed to oppose the legislation.
The Protocol, which Boris Johnson signed with the EU in January 2020, was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The EU’s ‘dogmatic’ and ‘rigid’ implementation of the Protocol has been blamed for causing significant trade disruption between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
It is also the cause of the deep political crisis in Northern Ireland, with the DUP refusing to re-enter a power-sharing Executive or allow an Assembly to function without changes to the Protocol.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has outlined how the UK will unilaterally overhaul post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland
The Government is pushing ahead with legislation at Westminster to achieve reforms if discussions with the EU continue to go nowhere
Former Cabinet minister Lord Patten of Barnes has already announced his intention to oppose the legislation
Ministers are pressing ahead with the plans due to fears their bill could face a tortuous passage through the House of Lords
The Government is due to publish its legislation at the start of next month and plans to introduce it to the House of Commons before MPs’ summer break begins at the end of July.
The Times reported that one minister warned the bill had to be introduced now as there were concerns it might not otherwise pass into law before the end of this session of Parliament next year.
A Tory former Cabinet minister has already announced their intention to oppose the proposed legislation in the Lords.
Lord Patten of Barnes, who led the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland in the late 1990s, predicted a tough ride for the ‘utterly intolerable’ legislation in the upper chamber.
‘If Johnson intends to try and override a deal that he himself signed I cannot, as a Conservative, support this in the Lords and I am sure that will be the case with many of my colleagues,’ he said.
‘But then we don’t have a Conservative government. What we have is an English nationalist government with a cult of Johnson.’
There could also be a Tory rebellion against the legislation in the Commons.
A number of senior Conservative MPs have voiced their concerns at the Government’s plan to act unilaterally to override the Protocol, with accusations it would be a breach of international law.
Simon Hoare, the Conservative chair of the Commons’ Northern Ireland Committee, yesterday quoted Margaret Thatcher to MPs as he told them: ‘The first duty of Government is to uphold the law.’
He added: ‘Respect for the rule of law runs deep in our Tory veins, and I find it extraordinary that a Tory Government need to be reminded of that.’
Sir Bob Neill, the chair of the Commons Justice Committee, urged Ms Truss to pursue a negotiated settlemt with the EU over the Protocol, adding: ‘I emphasise that that is important not just in terms of the overall objective but in terms of the United Kingdom’s international reputation and our ability to demonstrate that we act with the greatest concern for our legal obligations.’
Damian Green, who was Theresa May’s deputy when the former PM was in Number 10, also said a negotiated settlement ‘would be preferable’ and called for ‘consistency in Government messaging’ on whether it still wants to strike a deal with the EU.
Former minister Sir Oliver Heald urged the Foreign Secretary to ‘go the extra mile’ in seeking reforms to the Protocol in collaboration with Brussels.
The Foreign Secretary has offered assurances she is open to continued discussions with the EU
She has also denied the UK is seeking to ‘scrap’ the Protocol and instead wants to ‘fix’ it.
Ms Truss today said it would be ‘very positive’ if the UK could strike a deal with Brussels.
But she also warned the situation in Northern Ireland was ‘very severe’ as she stressed the Government couldn’t ‘delay’ its plans for unilateral action.
‘I’m absolutely clear that we can’t delay … delivering a solution in Northern Ireland,’ she told Times Radio.
‘The situation is very severe. The Executive hasn’t been formed since February. And we’re only going to be able to get it back up and running, to get the Belfast Good Friday Agreement working again, by delivering this solution.
‘Now, if while we’re putting this legislation through we can get a negotiated solution with the EU, that would be very positive – we’d be able to put that into the legislation.
‘But we’re certainly not delaying the legislative process because it is urgent that we deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.’
She also repeated her insistence that the Government’s bill was ‘in line with international law’.
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