In brief

Majority of Stormont MLAs reject attempt to alter Northern Ireland Protocol

Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance Party oppose UK government’s U-turn in letter sent to Boris Johnson · No unionist MLA joins criticism

Sinn Féin leader and MLA Michelle O'Neill unveils letter to the media.
Sinn Féin leader and MLA Michelle O'Neill unveils letter to the media. Author: Sinn Féin
52 MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly, out of a total of 90, have sent a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make him aware of their opposition to a bill that would override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The signatory MLAs belong to the Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and the Alliance Party. No MLAs from the unionist bloc have signed the letter.

The protocol governs trade and migration issues between the EU and the UK within the island of Ireland. In order to avoid imposing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the Brussels-London deal has ended up creating a de facto customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK since 2021.

In their letter, MLAs warn that the UK government will be breaching international law if the bill passes. The representatives of the three parties say the protocol is “the only available protection” for Northern Ireland from the effects of a “hard Brexit.”

But Northern Ireland’s main unionist party, the DUP, finds the protocol unacceptable as an “existential threat” to Northern Ireland’s continued membership of the UK. Unionists say they will not allow the formation of a new government in Stormont if no changes to the protocol are introduced.

Johnson’s conservative government has aligned itself with the unionists’ thesis and has tabled a bill on Monday to “fix” parts of the agreement.

The UK government argues that, given the fact that the protocol does not enjoy support from the unionist parties, it is necessary to change it in order to protect the stability of Northern Ireland’s autonomy.

The bill has been tabled without the agreement of the EU, which has warned the UK that no amendment to the protocol will be negotiated and that it will take the matter to court if needed.