The Northern Irish election results, which have given Sinn Féin the most seats at Stormont for the first time, have prompted speculations around the UK Government’s next moves on the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Times reported on Tuesday that the UK foreign secretary Liz Truss will unilaterally scrap key parts of the Protocol removing the need for checks on goods between Britain and Northern Ireland (NI). Such a draft bill of changes would mean the UK breaking its treaty obligations, and could lead to the EU bloc imposing new tariffs.
The draft legislation would usher in other considerable changes, including the removal of the powers of the European court of justice, and the requirement for Northern Irish businesses to follow EU regulations. Despite these reports, Government sources says that no final decisions have been made on the course of action, but that ministers are set to agree on a plan imminently.
The EU’s Chief Negotiator Maros Sefcovic called on the UK to ‘dial down the rhetoric’ on the subject. Northern Irish business groups are said to be working on plans to bringing political parties towards a consensus position on the Protocol to ensure stability. Mr Sefcovic called on the UK to “show genuine determination and good faith to make the protocol work, rather than looking for ways to erode it”.
Negotiations between the UK and EU on the Protocol have been taking place since October, with little progress. The UK Government is said to be pessimistic about the changes of a breakthrough in the talks. EU has been changed recently to guarantee a supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. “Grace periods” have been put into effect, meaning the full deployment of the Protocol is not taking place.
In Northern Ireland, the DUP’s position is that it must be removed before any power-sharing executive can be formed following Republican party Sinn Féin overtaking the Unionists in the recent vote. Sinn Féin became the first nationalist party to win the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly in its 101-year history. If no executive is established after six months, NI Secretary of State Brandon Lewis must call an election. “Brinkmanship will not be tolerated where the north of Ireland becomes collateral damage in a game of chicken with the European Commission”, said Sinn Féin’s Vice President.