Belfast Telegraph

Government's Brexit 'Stormont lock gives Northern Ireland business clarity'

Theresa May will seek the support of MPs for her Brexit deal (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Theresa May will seek the support of MPs for her Brexit deal (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The Government has published a series of commitments and assurances on Northern Ireland and its place in the UK with businesses representatives saying it is the "clarity" the community needs.

The paper outlines how it wants to address concerns over the backstop and the future relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Key among its commitments is giving a restored Northern Ireland Assembly a say on any future laws that the EU may pass if the backstop comes into force. A so-called "Stormont lock".

Read the full document here

That commitment has already been dismissed as "window dressing and spin" by Northern Ireland political parties. Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington has said there is no alternative.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds described it as "cosmetic and meaningless".

The government also pledged there would be "no divergence in practice" between the rules in GB and NI in any scenario in which the backstop took effect.

Key provision also include the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the principle of consent, the continuation of the common travel area and the establishment of a custom union between the UK and EU.

Addressing the lack of power sharing in Northern Ireland, the paper states the Government is committed to restoring the Assembly "at the earliest opportunity".

"The Government remains strongly committed, though, to giving a restored Executive and Assembly a strong voice in any scenario where the backstop would be brought into force," the paper states.

"This would be without prejudice to our commitment to abide by our international law obligations."

Local businesses welcomed the Government's commitments.

"It provides the clarity that the business community needs," said Aodhan Connolly of the NI Retail Consortium.

"We hope that this will go some way to assuage the concerns of the DUP and others so that we can get what we need for Northern Ireland: a Brexit deal.

"We are a mere 79 days until Brexit and we cannot sleepwalk into a no-deal scenario which would lead to higher costs that neither business nor the hard pressed Northern Ireland consumer can afford. In short, Northern Ireland will feel the effects of a no deal Brexit more than anywhere else in the UK.

"The Assembly being able to vote on any new regulatory areas is of course predicated on the Assembly being up and running and these commitments are yet another reason to stop the stalemate at Stormont"

The paper published by the government on Wednesday states:

  • Ensure a strong role for the Northern Ireland Assembly before Northern Ireland specific backstop provisions are given effect in domestic law.
  • Seek the agreement of the Northern Ireland Assembly if the UK Government were ever to consider agreeing to add new areas of law applying specifically to Northern Ireland to the Protocol.

  • Provide a guarantee that nothing in the Protocol will change the scope, functions or remit of the North-South Ministerial Council or the NorthSouth Implementation Bodies, in particular, the current basis on which the discussions of these bodies observe the three stranded approach - or change any areas of North-South Cooperation without explicit agreement from the Northern Ireland Executive.

  • Set out a commitment to a role for the Northern Ireland Executive through the UK’s presence on the Joint Committee, Specialised Committee on the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Joint Consultative Working Group established by the Withdrawal Agreement where Northern Ireland-specific issues are to be discussed.

  • Provide a guarantee that the UK will ensure that all engagement and dialogue under the governance arrangements applying to the Withdrawal Agreement will be consistent with the well-established three stranded approach set out in the Belfast Agreement, with no change to the role of the UK or Irish Governments.

  • Outline measures to guarantee the integral place of Northern Ireland in the UK economy, guaranteeing the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the rest of the UK.

  • Ensure there would be no divergence in practice between the rules in Great Britain and NI covered by the Protocol in any scenario in which the backstop took effect.

  • Work with a restored Northern Ireland Executive to deliver on the enhanced role for Stormont to support the Northern Ireland economy the backstop provides - with Government support to facilitate the Executive using its new powers to drive growth across Northern Ireland.

  • Ensure that the voice of a restored Northern Ireland Executive, along with the other devolved administrations, is at the heart of our work in negotiations on our future relationship.

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