It’s ‘Necessary’ UK Acts on Northern Ireland Protocol: Attorney General

The UK government’s top legal adviser has said “it’s only right” that the government takes action over the Northern Ireland Protocol, suggesting the UK is likely to suspend parts of the post-Brexit trade deal.

Suella Braverman, attorney general for England and Wales and advocate general for Northern Ireland, on May 12 blamed the European Union over its “interpretation and application” of the agreement, which she said created a de facto sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is part of the UK’s Brexit deal that leaves Northern Ireland in the E.U.’s single market and customs union. It was created to avoid a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as a visible border may risk resurrecting sectarian violence between Irish nationalists and unionists.

But the largest unionist party, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has refused to accept the deal, and has collapsed Northern Ireland’s government in protest. The newly elective Northern Ireland Assembly, the region’s Parliament, cannot function either as the DUP today refused to nominate a speaker.

Ministers have said they could trigger Article 16 of the protocol—which allows either side to suspend some of the arrangements.

Speaking on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday, Braverman said the E.U. had applied a disproportionate number of border checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea and said she believes it has become “painfully, apparently necessary” that the UK takes action over the Protocol.

Asked about a The Times of London report that said she had greenlighted the suspension of large parts of the Protocol, Braveman said she could neither confirm nor deny the information, adding, “What is undeniable and what is clear is that there are real problems in Northern Ireland caused by the E.U.’s interpretation and application of the protocol.”

“The economy of Northern Ireland is worth less than 1 percent of the whole E.U. economy, but yet the number of checks that they are applying on the Irish Sea is totally out of proportion to that and is disproportionately bigger than the number of checks they apply on the rest of their borders,” she said.

“It doesn’t make sense, and therefore, I think it’s only right that we do take action.”

Braveman stressed that the decision on whether or not to go forward with suspending parts of the agreement lies with the government, but argued the step has become “painfully, apparently necessary” in order to protect the integrity of the UK, remove trade barriers, and make sure both the unionists and the nationalists feel they are part of Northern Ireland.

Sir Jonathan Jones QC, who resigned as the head of the government legal department in 2020 over a previous attempt to override the protocol, warned the move could break international law.

“If that’s been proposed now then that’s seriously problematic, and it feels like a rerun of what happened two years ago when the government was proposing to break international law,” he told BBC Radio 4’s “PM” programme.

“We know that the E.U. will be very cross if that happens and I think it’s understandable that they would be cross. Because this would be a unilateral act and it would very severely damage the relationship we will continue to need with the E.U. post-Brexit.”

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney speaking to the media outside Grand Central Hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on May 11, 2022. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said that unilaterally suspending the Protocol would be “anti-democratic” on the UK’s part.

Coveney told BBC Radio Four that if the UK government would be “deliberately deciding to breach international law” if it does rip up the Protocol, adding, “It means that the British Government would be deliberately acting in an anti-democratic way because 53 of the 90 MLAs elected to the Assembly in Northern Ireland are supportive of the protocol.”

In the Northern Ireland election on May 5, the nationalist Sinn Féin Party gained 27 seats, becoming the largest party in Stormont for the first time, while the DUP slid to the second with 25 seats.

Among the 90 newly elected MLAs (lawmakers), 37 registered as unionists and 35 as nationalists, with 18 didn’t register as either.

Lily Zhou


Lily Zhou is a freelance writer mostly covering UK news for The Epoch Times.

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