(Bloomberg) — The UK’s bill to override parts of the Brexit deal “has the potential to secure a permanent pragmatic solution” to issues surrounding the Northern Irish Protocol, a key political party said, stopping short of saying it would take part in the region’s power-sharing government.
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“We will want to examine the bill against our seven tests to determine that, if enacted, it will restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market and remedy the democratic deficit of the Protocol,” DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said in a statement late Monday, stressing the party’s view that the part of the Brexit treaty dealing with Northern Ireland eroded unionist support for the Good Friday Agreement.
Even so, while the bill makes a “significant imprint” on addressing unionist concerns, “it is only a proposal and it’s not legislation until it’s passed,” Agriculture Minister and former DUP leader Edwin Poots warned in an interview with Bloomberg Television Tuesday. “We will look at how things transpire in the second stage of the reading” before making further decisions, he said.
The DUP have refused to take part in the formation of Northern Ireland’s devolved government following May’s elections, stipulating that the Protocol must effectively be scrapped in order for them to participate. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement — the treaty that largely ended decades of sectarian violence in the region — the DUP, as the biggest unionist party and second largest party in the assembly overall, effectively has a veto that is making it impossible for a government to function.
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“Northern Ireland needs legislation to fix the very obvious real-world problems caused by the Protocol” in the absence of agreement with the EU, whose proposals “would have led to more costly checks on passengers, pets and goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, not fewer,” Donaldson said.
Even so, the legislation will likely take a year to 18 months to be enacted, if it is, according to Katy Hayward, professor of political sociology at Queen’s University Belfast. “There is literally no benefit to Northern Ireland from the tabling of this bill because the DUP won’t immediately go back in to form the new executive,” she said.
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The plan by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has angered other political parties in Northern Ireland. A majority of the region’s elected representatives co-signed a letter calling his approach “reckless” and one that “flies in the face of the expressed wishes of not just most businesses, but most people in Northern Ireland.”
“This is completely unwarranted and unhelpful action by the UK government,” Sorcha Eastwood of the Alliance Party, who was elected to the assembly last month, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a high-stakes gamble as no one can really state what the DUP’s goal’s are,” she said, noting that Parliament could stop the legislation.
“For the UK government to somehow package this as something that is being done in the best interest of Northern Ireland, or to somehow accelerate the DUP into forming an executive is completely misguided, disingenuous, and is not representative of the people of Northern Ireland,” Eastwood said.
Without an executive in place, key decisions such as budgets cannot be passed, something which is frustrating parties across the political spectrum amid rising inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.
“It’s a straight-up, slam-dunk, breach of an international agreement that undermines the Good Friday Agreement and their actions will have huge economic consequences,” Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, who is nominated to take up the post of First Minister if an executive can formed, told broadcaster RTE on Tuesday.
Donaldson said while he wants to see the political institutions in Northern Ireland restored, “until we get clarity and certainty on a solution, that simply isn’t possible.”