We will not let Boris break up the Union to mollify the EU and Ireland

A reaction to yesterday’s high court ruling in Belfast upholding the NI Protocol from the six politicians taking the case, Jim Allister, Steve Aiken, Arlene Foster, Ben Habib, Baroness Hoey, Lord Trimble:

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 11:27 am
Updated Thursday, 1st July 2021, 6:38 pm
The prime minister said that the Act of Union had been protected and would not be broken. Justice Colton has told him otherwise
The prime minister said that the Act of Union had been protected and would not be broken. Justice Colton has told him otherwise

In a politically charged adjudication, the Honourable Mr Justice Colton delivered his verdict on our application for a Judicial Review of the Protocol.

It was relatively easy to guess his likely judgement by his opening remarks.

These remarks laboured the tortuous process of Brexit itself: Mrs May’s original idea of the entire UK remaining in the EU’s customs union; her political difficulties and eventual ejection from office. Then the emergence of Boris Johnson as prime minister with his own Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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Five of the six litigants: Ben Habib, Baroness Hoey, Arlene Foster and Lord Trimble

Although he did not say so, it was Justice Colton clear he felt enough was enough on the political debate over the Irish border.

He was softening us up to dismiss the grounds of our objections.

This he did systematically starting with perhaps the most important part of our case, the Act of Union 1800.

We had rightly argued the protocol put a border down the Irish Sea, subjected Northern Ireland to a separate constitution and thereby did not just treat its people in an inherently different way but also separated it from the UK.

He agreed with all this but instead of then going on to agree the Act of Union had been breached, he ruled it had, to the extent required to leave Northern Ireland behind in the EU, been repealed.

That may have been a neat legal trick to get the government off the hook but the political impact of confirming the union of the United Kingdom has been broken is vast.

First and foremost it follows if there is a border in the Irish Sea with Northern Ireland subject to a separate constitution, the East/ West dimension of the Belfast Agreement has also been broken.

Justice Colton has indirectly confirmed, in pursuit of the faux protection of the North/ South dimension of that agreement, the East/ West dimension has been ditched.

The protocol has, in substance, been adjudicated to have broken the Belfast Agreement – the very agreement it was meant to protect.

Second, it puts paid to government’s constitutional alchemy.

The prime minister has repeatedly claimed by moving customs checks to the Irish Sea, a “hard border” on the island of Ireland had been avoided.

But he never accepted, and still does not, that there is now a definite border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Indeed, his Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, tweeted in January “there is no Irish Sea border”.

Such nonsense is now confirmed for what it is, nonsense.

The prime minister’s solemn Brexit manifesto pledge was the country would leave the EU as one United Kingdom.

As recently as two weeks ago the prime minister said in the Commons that the Act of Union had been protected and would not be broken.

Justice Colton has told him otherwise.

He must now explain how it is he has been facing both ways on this issue for so long and what he will do to fix our broken union.

The other eye-catching ruling made by the Honourable Justice was that retrospective democratic approval of part only (much of it will never be put to a vote) of the Protocol by Stormont in 2024 does not cut across the requirement in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 or the Belfast Agreement for prior cross community consent to constitutional changes.

In this, and indeed in other parts of his judgement, he is fundamentally wrong.

We all know the protocol would never have been approved in advance – there is no way it would ever have achieved cross community consent.

We the complainants in this judicial review will not allow the prime minister to break the union of the United Kingdom in order to mollify Ireland and the EU.

The protocol is the embodiment of ultimate political weakness.

We will not allow him to ride rough shod over the Belfast Agreement and the people of Northern Ireland.

We do not agree with a great deal of Justice Colton’s findings but they have nevertheless confirmed the devastating impact of the protocol; for that we thank him.

The hearing in the High Court in Belfast was just the first step in our legal battle. We have always said the legalities of this dispute will be settled in the Supreme Court.

We will appeal.

Jim Allister, Steve Aiken, Arlene Foster, Ben Habib, Baroness Hoey, Lord Trimble

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