Boris Johnson says plans to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol could become law 'fairly rapidly' as MPs to vote on controversial bill

·4 min read

Government plans allowing ministers powers to override parts of the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland could become law "fairly rapidly", Boris Johnson has suggested.

MPs are set to vote on the controversial new legislation - which contains measures to remove checks on goods and animal and plant products travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland - on Monday.

Speaking ahead of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill's second reading in the Commons, the prime minister told broadcasters that, parliament willing, the legislation could be enacted "very fast".

"What we are trying to do is fix something that I think is very important to our country, which is the balance of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement," he told reporters at the G7 Summit in Germany.

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"You have got one tradition, one community, that feels that things really aren't working in a way that they like or understand, you've got unnecessary barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

"All we are saying is you can get rid of those whilst not in any way endangering the EU single market."

Asked if the measures could be in place this year, Mr Johnson replied: "Yes, I think we could do it very fast, parliament willing."

The prime minister noted that it would be "even better" if the European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic could show some "flexibility", adding: "We remain optimistic."

Earlier on Monday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also defended the government's plans on social media.

She tweeted: "It will fix problems the protocol has created in Northern Ireland and uphold the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

"Our preference remains a negotiated outcome, but EU continues to rule out change to protocol."

Unionist opposition to the imposition of checks has seen the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refuse to return to the power sharing executive in Northern Ireland, leaving the region without a functioning government.

The UK has insisted that its unilateral approach is the only option left to resolve the issues, but the move has been heavily criticised by the European Union.

The European Union's ambassador to the UK warned the government on Sunday that the plans were "illegal and unrealistic".

Speaking to Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Joao Vale de Almeida argued steps being taken by Boris Johnson's administration over the Northern Ireland Protocol were "a road to nowhere".

But Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told the show that action was needed to fix the "substantial problems" caused by the implementation of the agreement.

Environment Secretary George Eustice added that the plans to override parts of the post-Brexit treaty related to the protocol will see the single market protected.

"We are not breaking an agreement, we are bringing clarity to how it should be interpreted," Mr Eustice told Sky News, rejecting the assertion that the UK's proposed action is illegal.

"What is legal is what Parliament deems legal through the legislation it passes," he said.

Read more:
What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why does it matter?
How long will the UK survive?
Tearing up NI trade deal is 'economic vandalism' - Irish PM

Brussels has launched legal action against the UK in retaliation to the proposed legislation, which would effectively ditch key parts of the deal signed by Mr Johnson and the EU in 2019.

Mr Sefcovic has indicated further measures could follow if the UK pressed ahead with the bill.

He previously declined to rule out a trade war, saying: "We have to keep all options on the table."

But he emphasised the EU's preference to find a negotiated solution to the problems caused by the protocol, lamenting the "radio silence from London since February".

The environment secretary told Sky News that it would be "foolish" of the bloc to launch a trade war over the controversial changes.

The UK is planning unilateral action to introduce separate "green" and "red" lanes for goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, drawing a line between those destined to stay within the UK and those heading to the Republic of Ireland and beyond.

Alongside the second reading, the government is launching a series of "structured engagements" with the business community to discuss and gather views on the bill's implementation.

The Foreign Office is hosting the first roundtable event on Monday, bringing together more than a dozen major UK businesses and representative groups including the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, Asda, John Lewis and the Dairy Council NI.

Sir Keir Starmer has said Labour would axe the proposed laws if it was in power, and confirmed his party will vote against the legislation at Westminster.

Meanwhile, Stormont DUP minister Edwin Poots told BBC Radio Ulster it will be a "significant step" if the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill gets through its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday, but that the future looks "bleak" if it does not.

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