Verdict underlines need for political solution to NI Protocol – DUP leader

A Supreme Court judgment affirming the lawfulness of the Northern Ireland Protocol highlights why solutions to the contentious trading arrangements must be found by Government, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

The UK’s highest court dismissed a challenge from a group of unionists and Brexiteers who claimed the protocol breached the Acts of Union and the Northern Ireland Act.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill welcomed the court judgment and said there was no alternative to the protocol and that it needed to be made to work better for everyone.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, left, Ben Habib, back left, Baroness Kate Hoey, second right, and former first minister Dame Arlene Foster, right, outside the UK Supreme Court in London (Aaron Chown/PA)

The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU in 2019 to ensure free movement of trade across the Irish land border after Brexit.

However, the arrangement is opposed by unionists, and the DUP last year collapsed the Stormont Assembly in protest over its terms.

Sir Jeffrey was at the Supreme Court on Wednesday to hear Lord Stephens rule that the challenge was “unanimously dismissed” on all grounds.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “A solution to the protocol was never going to be found in the courts, but the cases have served to highlight some of the reasons why unionists have uniformly rejected the protocol.

“The Government must consider this judgment, their own arguments to the court and take the steps necessary to replace the protocol with arrangements that unionists can support.

“The protocol represents an existential threat to the future of Northern Ireland’s place within the Union.

“The longer the protocol remains, the more it will harm the Union itself.”

He added: “The checks on the Irish Sea border are the symptom of the underlying problem: namely, that Northern Ireland is subject to a different set of laws imposed upon us by a foreign entity without any say or vote by any elected representative of the people of Northern Ireland.

“Political progress in Northern Ireland was hard won and is built on the support of unionists and nationalists.

“There will be no solid basis for an executive and assembly until the protocol is replaced with arrangements that restore NI’s place in the UK internal market and our constitutional arrangements are respected.”

Ms O’Neill tweeted: “I welcome the Supreme Court ruling which rejects arguments that the protocol is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement.

“The protocol is lawful, but also necessary to limit the damage done by Brexit.

Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry said it was time to find pragmatic solutions to issues with the protocol (Brian Lawless/PA)

“No credible alternative exists, we need to make it work better for everyone.”

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the  judgment should “focus minds” on the need to find pragmatic solutions to issues with the protocol.

He said: “The only viable way forward lies with the current UK/EU negotiations.

Steve Aiken press conference
UUP MLA Steve Aiken said unionist concerns about the protocol could not be ‘shrugged off’ (Liam McBurney/PA)

“Any outcome will be based on pragmatic solutions, and it is time that all Northern Ireland parties place themselves in that headspace.

“A pragmatic deal on the protocol and restoration of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are essential to allowing Northern Ireland to work.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said the judgment demonstrated why unionist concerns about the protocol could not be “shrugged off”.

He said: “While this is no longer a matter for the courts, the judgment demonstrates that the concerns of unionism about the protocol and the damage it stands to do to Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom are legitimate.

Northern Ireland Assembly election
SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said the Supreme Court judgment provided important clarity over the protocol (Liam McBurney/PA)

“That the Supreme Court recognises that the protocol suspends a part of the Act of Union should be a matter of considerable concern for all those who believe in our Union.”

SDLP Stormont leader Matthew O’Toole said the Supreme Court judgment provided “important clarity” on the lawful status of the protocol.

He said: “Following this judgment, it is now critical that the EU and UK negotiating teams reach a comprehensive resolution that protects our unique access to the single market for goods while addressing the concerns around protocol implementation that have given rise to sincere objections related to trade barriers and identity issues in the unionist community.

“The people of Northern Ireland deserve government.”

Stormont Assembly
TUV leader Jim Allister was one of the those who brought the legal challenge to the protocol (Brian Lawless/PA)

But TUV leader Jim Allister, one of those who brought the legal challenge, said the Supreme Court verdict did not affect the “political unacceptability” of the protocol.

He said: “The essence of our legal challenge was to the lawfulness of the protocol.

“The fact the Supreme Court is satisfied it was lawfully made does not in the least affect its political unacceptability, nor its dire constitutional consequences.

“Indeed, findings of the Supreme Court greatly strengthen our case against the protocol.”