Jeffrey Donaldson: Northern Ireland Protocol Bill not perfect but it can help restore NI place in Union

The government’s bid to amend parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol cleared its first legislative hurdle last night in the House of Commons.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 28th June 2022, 7:33 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th June 2022, 7:45 am

MPs voted 295 to 221, with a majority of 74, to allow the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill a second reading.

That clears the way for it to undergo detailed scrutiny from MPs in the coming weeks, with a number of amendments likely to be tabled.

And the House of Lords is expected to contest parts of the bill, setting up a lengthy showdown between the two Houses.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaks to the media on College Green in Westminster, London, ahead of the debate on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in the House of Commons.

There had been protracted debate before the vote. DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Commons: “The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill seeks to finally and fundamentally reset and restore Northern Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom, given the devastating impact of the protocol on the economic, constitutional, social and political life of Northern Ireland over the last 18 months.”

He highlighted limits on goods reaching NI and criticised a situation which has left MLAs presiding over regulations “over which they have no say”.

He added: “No democratic input into how those regulations are put in place and they regulate how we trade with the rest of our own country.

“How can anyone in this House defend a situation where part of this United Kingdom is treated in a way where its elected representatives have no say in many of the laws that regulate our trade with the rest of the United Kingdom?”

Sir Jeffrey, asked what happens if the bill does not give Northern Ireland the things it wants, said: “I am not suggesting the bill is perfect, it is rare that legislation that passes this House is perfect in every sense and doesn’t subsequently require amendment.

“The benefit of this bill is that it empowers ministers to make change where change is necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the UK internal market.”

He added the bill will also “restore Northern Ireland’s place within the Union”.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna called for a “negotiated solution” with the EU as she told MPs “we have solved bigger problems than these before”.

She insisted “there’s no doubt that the protocol can be smooth” and “the operation can be improved”, adding: “Everybody says that.“Nobody, as I’ve said before, in Northern Ireland loves the protocol, but we know that the better options were voted down, but like everything that’s worth doing in Northern Ireland that will be achieved through partnership, through compromises, and not through unmeetable red lines that would remove the people of Northern Ireland from the single market, which is something that has no support.

“But instead of doing the hard work and levelling with the people of Northern Ireland, this government, to whom the DUP have shackled themselves, are choosing to distort and deflect.”

Ms Hanna added: “I don’t believe, having spent the last six years of my life having the same argument, I don’t believe the party opposite have it in them to put the people and the businesses and the economy of the people of Northern Ireland first.

“But I would implore some of my colleagues on these benches to please unshackle yourselves, work with us, work with your neighbours, and your colleagues, and your friends to arrive at the solutions, the negotiated solutions that we all know are possible. We have solved bigger problems than these before.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson criticised Labour’s Stella Creasy, suggesting that she was “hoping that the toffs down the other end of this building [House of Lords] will defeat this bill”.

The East Antrim MP was also disdainful of Ms Creasy for suggesting that politicians “consult the people of Northern Ireland” on future post-Brexit trade arrangements, adding: “They didn’t consult too much … when it came to abortion.”

Alliance MP Stephen Farry said: “This is an extremely bad bill, it’s unwanted, unnecessary and, indeed, it’s dangerous.”

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy referred to an intervention about discussions he has had with the DUP and Labour’s solutions. He said: “The DUP, in our discussions, has consistently said that they wanted a negotiation settlement until this bill was published today.”

But DUP MP Ian Paisley responded: “Is it in order for the shadow secretary of state to indicate that he has had negotiations with the Democratic Unionist Party when no such negotiations have taken place?”