Letter: ‘Šefčovič seems unaware NI is an integral part of United Kingdom’

In an erudite and eloquent speech in Lisbon on Tuesday, Lord Frost recognised that the Northern Ireland Protocol had created a “very serious situation” – constitutionally, economically and politically.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 15th October 2021, 12:39 pm
Great Britain and Northern Ireland in isolation

He rightly recognised that there is a widespread feeling in the UK that the EU did try to use Northern Ireland to encourage UK political forces to reverse the EU referendum result, or to keep the UK closely aligned with the EU .

The consequence of the way this is happening is disrupting ordinary lives, damaging large and small businesses, and causing serious turbulence to the institutions of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement within Northern Ireland.

In his preface to the Command Paper published in July the Prime Minister accepted that the Protocol was unworkable, damaging to the United Kingdom’s trade with Northern Ireland, and that grounds existed to suspend the Protocol under Article 16.

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Having irreversibly nailed his colours to this mast, he indicated that he was prepared to give the EU one last opportunity to agree to renegotiate the Protocol, and that the EU must deliver significant changes to the existing Protocol.

The Prime Minister concluded that there was still an opportunity to proceed differently and to agree with the EU a new balance in how the Protocol operates.

On Wednesday Maros Sefcovic announced limited “solutions”, primarily relating to agri-food goods and medicines being imported presumably without restriction from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

There are nevertheless considerable and economically-important exclusions which remain subject to EU rather than UK customs restrictions.

Most importantly, Mr Sefcovic ignores the fundamental democratic and constitutional flaws with the Protocol.

He appears to be unaware, as most graphically was President Macron, that Northern Ireland is constitutionally part of the United Kingdom as much as Corsica or Brittany is constitutionally part of France.

Of very considerable concern is the EU’s insistence that the Protocol should be justiciable before the European Court which because it exists purely to enforce the EU Treaties is not a court of justice.

It exists to promote the interests of the EU in its interpretation of the Treaties not to do justice between the parties. Moreover the people of Northern Ireland, let alone the people of Great Britain, have no democratic control over the court, nor over the level of EU customs duties and regulations.

Why can’t a treaty between the EU and an independent third country be subject in accordance with normal practice to independent international arbitration?

What is to be done? By all means negotiations should continue between Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic, but there is little prospect of an amended Protocol that can in any sense benefit the economic interests of Northern Ireland, let alone its constitutional status within the United Kingdom.

Litigation against the protocol on behalf of a number of representative NI companies (which was the brainchild of Ian Paisley Jnr MP) — Paul Jackson, Blair International Limited, R Barkley and Sons Ltd, Baird Bros Ltd — has been stayed pending the outcome of the negotiations.

The litigation was the brainchild of Ian Paisley Jnr MP who has played a continuing role in co-ordinating the action.

The basis of the litigation is the fact that the Protocol is unlawful and discriminatory under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Act of Union 1800 which provides that economically Northern Ireland should be treated no differently and no worse than the rest of the United Kingdom.

There is no doubt that the claimants and other similar companies have suffered continuing and substantial loss as a result of the Protocol as have their customers and consumers. They are entitled to something better not just a tinkering in respect of sausages and other limited goods.

The Prime Minister and Lord Frost should press home their strategy so that unless the EU concedes essentially all that is required including the removal of the jurisdiction of the European Court Article 16 will be exercised without further notice.

Clive Thorne, solicitor for the above-mentioned claimants and Vice-Chairman of Lawyers for Britain

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