Brexit: MLAs write to Michael Gove as fears grow UK government on cusp of second potential breach of international law

The Stormont Executive Office committee has agreed to write to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, after it emerged the United Kingdom government could potentially seek to breach international law a second time when it brings a finance bill before the House of Commons next week.

Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 3:55 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 4:10 pm

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned EU ambassodors that should the UK government attempt to circumvent the Northern Ireland Protocol contained in the Withdrawal Agreement a second time it would send Brexit talks between the EU and the UK into a “crisis”.

“The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has told EU ambassadors that if the UK Finance Bill, expected next week, contains clauses that breach international law [ie, that breach the NI Protocol] then the Brexit talks will be ‘in crisis’ and there will be a breakdown in trust,” said RTE’s Europe Editor, Tony Connelly.

The issue was raised by Sinn Fein MLA, Martina Anderson, at a meeting of the committee in Stormont on Wednesday afternoon.

Traffic crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal. (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

“We might need to take some action and ask for information if that is the case,” said the MLA for Foyle.

“If they [UK government] intend to breach international law again and overturn the NI protocol again then you are going to see the talks, which are due to end this week, in crisis.”

The Northern Ireland Protocol is contained within the Withdrawal Agreement - an agreement negotiated, signed and ratified by British prime minister, Boris Johnson and Conservative MPs.

Ms. Anderson admitted that while the committee’s concern might not come to pass she thought it better to be safe than sorry and writing to the British government the responsible thing to do.

In addition to writing to Mr. Gove, the committee also agreed to flag the issue up with First Minister, Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill.

“We should write to the British government expressing our concerns,” said Ms. Anderson.

“It might all be speculation at this stage but if what is being reported is true we will need information before we go over a cliff at the end of the month,” she added.

The UK officially left the EU on January 31, 2020 but both sides agreed to a transition period which officially ends on December 31, 2020.