On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a 74-vote majority on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to shred post-Brexit trade rules relating to the area.
Despite winning the vote, there were a number of senior Conservatives speaking out against the legislation, although none voted against it. Leading criticism of the Bill was former PM Theresa May who warned of reputational damage to the UK if the Government pursues it. “This bill, in my view, is not legal under international law, won’t achieve its aims and diminishes the standing of the UK in the eyes of the world,” Mrs May commented.
The new Bill seeks to implement separate “green” and “red” lanes at NI ports for goods travelling between GB and NI, distinguishing those staying in the UK and those directed to the Irish Republic, and beyond. Only goods travelling through NI from Britain en route to the Republic of Ireland would undergo full checks.
More than 70 Conservative MPs abstained from the vote, and the Bill faces significant delays to its passing, especially in the House of Lords where the Government does not hold the majority.
The NI Protocol was agreed in October 2019, and is designed to avoid customs tariffs, customs declarations and customs controls in trade between Northern Ireland and the European Union, in particular the Republic of Ireland. It created a border in the Irish Sea for goods passing from the UK to NI, and the policy was designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement conditions, avoiding border posts that could lead to instability.
The EU’s ambassador to the UK has warned that these steps were “illegal and unrealistic” and “a road to nowhere”. The EU has responded in Brussels by restarting legal proceedings against the UK and ramping up threats of a trade war. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney stated he was “hugely disappointed” to see the legislation being pushed forward in the House of Commons.
As a result of the EU-UK deadlock over the Protocol’s future, efforts to form a devolved Government administration in Belfast have been put into disarray. Ministers based in Westminster agreed this month that the NI Protocol Bill should not be given its second reading until the DUP agrees to end its boycott of the Stormont Executive. Liz Truss has signalled her expectation that the “passage of the Bill” would lead to the resumption of the NI power-sharing executive.
BIVDA will continue to monitor the Bill’s progress, providing ‘need-to-know’ updates to members on the potential impact on IVD companies who move goods towards or through Northern Ireland.