Ben Habib: In a new low, Boris Johnson is claiming the Act of Union no longer exists

Politicians can be ruthless in pursuit of their personal agendas but what we heard in the Belfast High Court on Tuesday reached new lows.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 10:52 am
Updated Thursday, 20th May 2021, 12:34 pm
Ben Habib, left, last week before the legal challenge to the NI Protocol with some of the other supporters of the case, Kate Hoey, Arlene Foster and Jim Allister QC

During the judicial review of the Northern Ireland Protocol the government argued that British citizens in Northern Ireland are not equal to citizens in Great Britain.

Acting for the government, Tony McGleenan QC claimed that Article 6 of the Act of Union 1800 no longer applies. He claimed the government had repealed it to enable the Northern Ireland Protocol and its new Irish Sea border to be put in place. For those not familiar with Article 6, it is a crucial bit of constitutional legislation.

It goes to the heart of the creation of our country and it requires that citizens across the United Kingdom are all treated equally. Here it is for those who would like to read it:

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Whatever the outcome of the judicial review, we do now know the government of the United Kingdom, led by Boris Johnson, holds the people of Northern Ireland and our Union in contempt, writes Ben Habib

“That it be the sixth article of union, that his Majesty’s subjects of Great Britain and Ireland shall, from and after the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and one, be entitled to the same privileges, and be on the same footing as to encouragements and bounties on the like articles, being the growth, produce, or manufacture of either country respectively, and generally in respect of trade and navigation in all ports and places in the united kingdom and its dependencies; and that in all treaties made by his Majesty, his heirs, and successors, with any foreign power, his Majesty’s subjects of Ireland shall have same the privileges, and be on the same footing as his Majesty’s subjects of Great Britain.”

Apart from the people of Northern Ireland being second class citizens, his claim also would mean the Union of the United Kingdom, as has existed for over 200 years, no longer exists.

I had expected the government to have a go at some sort of constitutional alchemy, arguing that Article 6 and Boris’s border could somehow simultaneously co-exist even though the latter runs a coach and horses through the former. But the chutzpah required simply to dismiss Article 6 is something else.

It shows a complete lack of respect for the people of Northern Ireland and our Union. Summarily professing to bin the Union – and without a word to anyone.

Whatever the outcome of the judicial review, we do now know the government of the United Kingdom, led by Boris Johnson, holds the people of Northern Ireland and our Union in contempt. Thankfully, the government is wrong about Article 6. It has not been repealed. It is in full force. It is just that the government has acted illegally by putting in place the Protocol.

It is wrong at every level. No one in their right mind could seriously attempt to square it with the fundamental rights and obligations we all have under the Union.

The Prime Minister and his government need to stop twisting in the wind over it. The damage already done by it is vast.

They must remind themselves of their obligations, reverse their position and ditch the Protocol.

• Mr Habib, a former MEP, is one of the people taking the legal challenge

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