No mention of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Queen’s Speech — but Irish language does get a pledge

The Queen’s Speech contained no direct reference to the Northern Ireland Protocol and any plans to deal with it.

By Henry McDonald
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 1:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 2:45 pm

However, government sources pointed to the address by Prince Charles which they said emphasised the importance of the UK internal market.

As well as stressing the importance of protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, Prince Charles said “the integrity of the whole of the UK is of paramount importance to Her Majesty’s Government including the internal economic bonds between all of its parts”.

Government sources said this was a reference to the sea border, the protocol and the integrity of the UK internal market.

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The Prince of Wales, flanked by the Duke of Cambridge and the Duchess of Cornwall reads the Queen's Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords, London. Photo: Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA Wire

The proposal to deliver the Identify and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill’ did, however, get a commitment.

It was contained in a longer 134 plus page version of the Queen’s Speech today at Westminster.

Prince Charles on behalf of the Queen delivered a truncated version of the longer speech in which he did not make specific references to the Language Act.

The longer version of the speech the government’s plans include the creation of “two new Commissioners who will be appointed by the First Minister and deputy First Minister acting jointly”

The DUP meanwhile said the party is now “in hard ball territory” with the government over the protocol which was made clear to the prime minister during a meeting between Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Boris Johnson ahead of the Queen’s Speech.

The speech contained a commitment to “take all steps necessary” to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.

However there was an emphasis placed on talks with the EU to find a resolution.

The leader of the DUP subsequently reiterated that without “decisive action” on the protocol from the UK government, he would not nominate ministers to a new Stormont executive.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson insisted that “words in themselves will not fix this problem”, adding that “until we see that decisive action we won’t be moving on the political institutions”.

“I want that to happen quickly; it must happen quickly. It’s in the interests of everyone that we get this sorted out, we find a resolution, and then we can move forward,” he told reporters.

The post-Brexit trading arrangements have seen additional checks on goods arriving into the region from Great Britain.

Unionists have fiercely opposed this as a border in the Irish Sea.

In a phone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday morning, Sir Jeffrey emphasised he wants to see action on the protocol.

Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill urged Mr Johnson that the public in Northern Ireland “can’t be a pawn in the British government’s game of chicken with the EU”.

The prime minister also spoke on Tuesday morning to Irish premier Micheal Martin, who urged against any unilateral action.

The Queen’s Speech acknowledged the stalemate at Stormont, adding the “protocol needs to change”.

In the speech read by the Prince of Wales in the absence of the Queen, who is suffering from mobility issues, the EU was urged to work with the UK “with new imagination and flexibility”, to deliver that change.

The government pledged to continue to talk to the EU, but said it will “not let that stand in the way of protecting peace and stability in Northern Ireland”.

It was pledged to “take the steps necessary to protect all dimensions of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and meet our obligations under the New Decade, New Approach Deal to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market”.

The longer, full version of the Queen’s Speech outlining the government’s programme contained a pledge to protect Northern Ireland’s place inside the UK’s internal market and deal with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“The UK government’s priority is to see a strong functioning Northern Ireland Executive delivering a better, more prosperous, shared future for all the people of Northern Ireland.

“As we have seen following the elections in Northern Ireland, the problems caused by the protocol continue to stand in the way of an executive being formed. In the interests of all communities of Northern Ireland, the protocol needs to change.

“We urge our partners in the EU to work with us, with new imagination and flexibility, to deliver that. We will continue to talk with the EU but we will not let that stand in the way of protecting peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

“As any responsible government would, we will take the steps necessary to protect all dimensions of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and meet our obligations under the New Decade New Approach Deal to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.”

Meanwhile there was also a commitment in the speech to make further regulations around access to abortion in Northern Ireland.

Abortion laws in the region were liberalised in 2019 following legislation passed by Westminster at a time when the powersharing government in the region had collapsed.

However, while individual health trusts have been offering services on an ad hoc basis, the Department of Health has yet to centrally commission the services.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis previously announced his intention to act in the absence of movement at Stormont.

In the Queen’s Speech, the government said it intends to make further regulations to ensure that women and girls have access to safe, high-quality abortion care in Northern Ireland.