UUP launch Judicial Review to 'protect Belfast Agreement'
The European Union is taking legal action against the UK over its unilateral move to change the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It comes as the Ulster Unionist Party also brings a Judicial Review against the protocol.
The first review, by UUP leader Steve Aiken and party chair Lord Empey, will be heard in the Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast on Monday morning.
The UK Government has unilaterally extended until October some grace periods of light-touch regulation on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain, which had been due to end this month.
The European Commission will now issue legal proceedings through two letters to the UK government, following its decision, RTE News reports.
There will be a letter of formal notice, triggering an infringement procedure due to an alleged breach of EU law, and what sources describe as a second "political" letter, alleging a breach of the good faith provisions of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
The former letter could result in the UK being taken to the European Court of Justice, while the latter potentially marks the beginning of an arbitration process under the dispute settlement mechanism within the Withdrawal Agreement.
The UK denies its actions are unlawful.
Unionists are angry at the protocol, which they feel cuts Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK, by keeping it aligned with trade rules post-Brexit.
It was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping the whole island in the EU single market.
Mr Aiken says as his party was central to the negotiation and delivery of the Belfast Agreement, they have no option but to act to protect it.
“Our application is based upon the fact that the Northern Ireland Protocol breaches the rights and safeguards granted to the people of Northern Ireland by the Belfast Agreement," he said.
"If this is allowed to proceed it undermines the rights afforded to those of all traditions and undermines the very basis on which the Belfast Agreement was negotiated. In our view, the Northern Ireland Protocol runs roughshod over the Belfast Agreement.
“We believe that the Belfast Agreement granted real protections and real rights to the people of Northern Ireland, whatever their identity, culture or creed. This application will bring legal definition and legal certainty to the question of what the Belfast Agreement gives to the people of Northern Ireland and to the question of whether the Northern Ireland Protocol is compatible with it.”
Mr Aiken added: “We believe that the Northern Ireland Protocol fundamentally and detrimentally changes the status of Northern Ireland and seriously damages the economic, societal and democratic fabric of Northern Ireland and that it is unlawful and incompatible with the Belfast Agreement and also the Withdrawal Act itself.
"We have brought this application to avail of the protections afforded to the people of Northern Ireland by the Belfast Agreement and we hope and believe that the courts will find that the Northern Ireland Protocol and the 2020 Regulations are unlawful.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged loyalist groups not to withdraw their support for the Good Friday Agreement as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Speaking during a visit to the region on Friday the PM admitted that the current working of the protocol was “unbalanced” and said his Government was working to address unionist concerns.
He also noted that the UK reserves the right to invoke Article 16 and suspend the protocol at any time if issues persist.