Mr Allister said the “general direction of travel” in the Bill introduced by Boris Johnson earlier today shows “progress” towards the unionist demand that the trade border dividing Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK be dismantled.
But the TUV boss said more clarity - along with delivery of the government’s plans - would be crucial.
In a statement, the North Antrim MLA said: “The detail of this Bill demands more extensive scrutiny than has been yet possible, but from my initial reading of it I have these observations:-
“Whereas, it makes an eye catching reference to the Acts of Union in Clause 1, proclaiming the Bill makes relevant provision, it is telling that there is no return to this issue within the Bill, unlike in respect of the other matters referenced in Clause 1. This suggests to me that Clause 1(c) has more form than substance. For substance I would have expected express affirmation of the primacy of Art 6 of the Acts of Union, rather than mere statement of the truism in 1(c) that any excluded parts of the Protocol can have no effect on the Acts of Union.
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“While the addressing in Clause 2 of the important issue of Section 7A of 2018 Act (the primary provision which gave supremacy in law to the Protocol) is welcome, with the recital of the exclusion of various provisions of the Protocol in clauses 4 & 8, my disappointment is that none of these key provisions (indeed, none of the clauses except the wrap-up clauses 21-26) come into effect on the day the Bill receives Royal Assent (see clause 26(3)). Their activation, rather, depends on the making of commencement regulations by the government. This affords no guarantee, therefore, that they will ever be activated, or activated in a timely manner!”
He continued: “To have bite and maximise unionist buy-in these provisions need to come into effect on the day the Act is passed.
“So much of the Bill is enabling in format that it leaves a lot to ministerial regulations, which does not bring certainty but rather leaves room for climbdown and equivocation, not least in respect of the power in clause 15(2) for a subsequent minister to provide that an ‘excluded provision’ of the Protocol could be reinstated!”
He added: “There is a lack of clarity in Clause 8 as to what happens going forward to the large swathe of foreign EU law that is imposed on Northern Ireland (laws we can’t change) under Annex 2 of the Protocol. Will the EU acquis still apply, and, if not, will some of it. This is an important issue requiring specific clarification.
“Its anticipation of green and red customs lanes confirms the unacceptable existence of a partitioning border in the Irish Sea. It is not mere amelioration of the Irish Sea border that is required, but its removal.”
On unionists’ next steps, Mr Allister said: “The general direction of travel in the Bill marks progress but, along with further clarity, delivery is key.
“The mere publication of this Bill is no basis for unionists to surrender the leverage they have by re-engaging with the Stormont institutions. Now is a time for unionism to hold its nerve and not be bought off by the promise of some jam tomorrow.”
He added: “Though it is a wholly inadequate tool, the simultaneous invoking of Article 16 of the Protocol today would have been a token of HMG’s good faith in moving forward on these issues. This has not happened, meaning we are still as much under the power and control of the iniquitous Protocol as we were before the publication of this Bill.”