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EU Expects UK To Rip Up The Northern Ireland Protocol After Sinn Fein Victory

3 min read

The European Union is bracing itself for the UK to take unilateral action on the Northern Ireland Protocol after nationalist party Sinn Fein came out on top in Thursday's Assembly elections.

EU sources told PoliticsHome there would be a "measured" response if the UK government, as is currently expected, signals its intent to change the post-Brexit treaty for Northern Ireland when it unveils its legislative agenda in the Queen's Speech on Tuesday.

In recent weeks the UK has upped the pressure on Brussels to make further concessions in negotiations over the protocol, warning that it is prepared to override it unilaterally.

PoliticsHome reported last month there was a growing feeling among ministers, including Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis, that the government should have done so late last year by triggering Article 16 of the treaty that was agreed as part of Brexit talks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is believed to be considering a different route whereby the government would disapply parts of the protocol through primary legislation, which he is expected to hint at in the Queen's Speech on Tuesday.

An EU source said any hint or reference to this plan "would not be very hard code to crack" and that the bloc had been preparing for the UK to take unilateral action for a number of weeks.

Another Brussels figure said that the EU would likely react with a statement "reminding the UK of its obligations and not issue a stronger response until or unless the UK goes one step further and tables legislation which seeks to overhaul the Northern Ireland Protocol".

“It’s the unilateral approach to put pressure on the bilateral approach," they said.

Speaking on Sunday morning, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said it was "clear" that fixing the protocol "cannot be put off" any longer.

He told Sky News that stability in the province "is being put at risk, imperilled if you like, by the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol, that’s something that affects communities across the board".

"We won't get the executive that the people of Northern Ireland need until it is dealt with," he said.

Despite Sinn Fein's historic victory on Thursday, Northern Ireland is expected to be without a functioning Executive for the foreseeable future. 

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which came second, is currently refusing to form a government with Sinn Fein due to its opposition to the post-Brexit treaty for the province.

The protocol, which came into effect at the start of last year, was designed to avoid a contentious hard border on the island of Ireland. The UK and EU did this by agreeing to keep Northern Ireland aligned with EU rules.

However, it has created new barriers to trade across the Irish Sea which both sides agree need to be reduced, while unionists like the DUP say it has undermined Northern Ireland's place in the UK. Months of negotiations between the UK and EU, which Foreign Secretary Liz Truss leads for the government, have failed to produce an agreement.

Under Northern Ireland's power-sharing system, established as part of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the largest unionist and nationalist parties share the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

In practice, this means Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill cannot take up her role as First Minister until the DUP agrees to nominate a Deputy First Minister.


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