Northern Ireland protocol not in Queen’s Speech but could ‘be torn up next week’

The remains of a burnt out double decker bus are removed from a main road in North Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Monday November 8th, 2021. The bus was hijacked and set on fire late Sunday in a loyalist area by four men who boarded the bus and ordered passengers to get off before setting it on fire. It is widely believed that loyalist paramilitaries were involved in the recent kidnappings and linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison

Anti-protocol vandals burned buses in protest of the deal in November, but Northern Ireland’s biggest party wants it kept (Image: AP)

The Government today refrained from tearing up the Northern Ireland Protocol but could make sweeping changes next week.

British ministers have been pushing Brussels for months to reform post-Brexit trade deals, but talks have stalled.

The protocol aims to prevent border controls on goods being transported between the north of the island of Ireland and the Republic.

It is supported by nationalists but detested by unionists, who say it creates a border in the Irish Sea and fundamentally changes the province’s status within the Union.

Sinn Fein recorded a historic victory in the Stormont general election last week on a pro-protocol platform, but the DUP has refused to enter government until overtaken.

Without the cooperation of Northern Ireland’s main trade union party, there is no hope of a functioning executive being formed, raising the prospect of new elections later this year or even a direct government from London.

Despite the political sensitivity of the protocol in a part of the UK that is never far from the risk of serious civil unrest, Liz Truss reportedly plans to unilaterally scrap much of the protocol.

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill with her party's newly elected MLAs

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill (centre) won enough votes last week to become Northern Ireland’s first unionized First Minister, but the largest unionized party will not allow government to form until protocol is reformed (Image: PA ).

The Foreign Secretary has given up hope of any serious outcome from negotiations with the European Union and plans to scrap controls between Northern Ireland and the UK, according to The Times.

A law being considered by Foreign Office officials would allow businesses in Northern Ireland to flout EU rules and regulations and strip the European Court of Justice of the power to rule on matters relating to the region, it says in the newspaper.

If the reports are correct, it would mean that the government is willing to make enough changes against the will of the EU to appease unionists in Northern Ireland, but is reluctant to trigger Article 16, which suspends the protocol entirely and is the option favored by hardline Brexiters.

Changes to the protocol were not mentioned in the Queen’s speech, although the Government promised to repeal the rules carried over from the UK’s EU membership.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss

The foreign secretary is reportedly planning to abolish large parts of the protocol without EU approval (Image: AFP)

Speaking to Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin ahead of the State Opening of Parliament, Boris Johnson said the situation with the Protocol was “very serious now”.

In a Downing Street report on the call, the two leaders agreed that it was vital to restore Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions as soon as possible.

Mr Johnson said the balance of the Good Friday Agreement was being eroded and that the recent election had further shown that the protocol was unsustainable in its current form.

A spokesman said: “Despite repeated efforts by the UK Government over many months to correct the Protocol, including sections relating to the movement of goods and governance, the European Commission has failed to take the necessary steps to address the economic and economic downturn political disturbances the ground.

“The Prime Minister reiterated that if solutions could not be found, the UK Government would take action to protect peace and political stability in Northern Ireland.”

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Justin Scacco

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