LONDON - (Labour Buzz) Boris Johnson has written to President Juncker, outlining his proposals for a new protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The plans were published today following the Prime Minister’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Outlining his desire to “get a deal” his proposal is to remove the “backstop” from the Withdrawal Agreement. In its place the Prime Minister has proposed a new protocol. This measure would create a single Irish regulatory zone. This means that Northern Ireland will have to follow EU rules for goods and there would be checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but no checks on goods from Ireland to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland essentially becomes a semi-autonomous province with shared responsibility by both the United Kingdom and the European Union.
The DUP, Boris Johnson’s coalition partners, stated that, “these proposals would ensure that Northern Ireland would be out of the EU customs union and the single market as with the rest of the United Kingdom.” The DUP had previously suggested they would never vote for a deal that places any barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Prior to the plans being released, the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told the Irish parliament that, “what we are hearing is not encouraging and would not be the basis for agreement.” Dublin’s response to these arrangements will be critical.
The government’s proposals provide for the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over the border zone. The Northern Ireland Assembly would continue to apply EU rules on goods. The Assembly, which is currently not sitting due the Northern Ireland parties being unable to form an administration, will be required to consent to these proposals after a transition period. These ongoing arrangements would need to be continuously agreed every four years in order for their continuation. Whether or not this new protocol will be sustainable in the eyes of the European Union is yet to be seen. The EU will be looking for stability for the long term, and may not appreciate a four-year review indefinitely.
The United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on October 31. The House of Commons has, however, voted to ensure the United Kingdom cannot leave without a deal. Any negotiated deal will be subject to a meaningful vote in the House of Commons. In circumstances where a deal has not been achieved the Prime Minister will be required to formally write to Brussels to seek an extension to Article 50 for further talks and negotiations. The Prime Minister has said we could not sign a letter seeking an extension but that the letter of the law would be respected. It is at this stage unclear how matters would proceed in this eventuality.
Aodhan Connolly, the Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, tweeted, “The Prime Minister’s long awaited proposal is hugely disappointing. It is clear that he has not listened to the needs of the Northern Ireland business community or Northern Ireland households.”
Prior to the proposals being submitted, the European Commission spokesperson said, “We will listen carefully to the UK. But in order for there to be a deal we must have a legally operational solution that meets all the objectives of the backtstop.”
The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has dismissed the government’s proposals for an alternative to the Irish backstop as “worse than Theresa May’s deal.” He went on to say that, “Boris Johnson knows full well that what he’s put forward is unlikely to be agreed.” Expressing concern over the deregulatory elements of the Prime Minister’s proposals, Corbyn explained he could not see how the important Good Friday Agreement could be upheld. It is unlikely that Labour would support these proposals in any crucial vote.
The Prime Minister will contact EU leaders this afternoon to discuss his proposals and it is expected that the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday.
(Written by Brendan Chilton, edited by Sam Gallagher)