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Northern Ireland Protocol legislation ‘does not violate international law’, Edinburgh professor tells MPs

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The NI Affairs Committee was told the Protocol Bill "does not violate international law".

The NI Affairs Committee was told the Protocol Bill "does not violate international law".

PA

The NI Affairs Committee was told the Protocol Bill "does not violate international law".

A professor of Public International Law has said the UK Government’s Northern Ireland Protocol bill “does not violate international law” as the Article 16 provision allows derogation.

Speaking at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Edinburgh Law School professor Alan Boyle also revealed he had been asked by the government to advise on the protocol six months ago and advised them they could not get out of the agreement.

The legislation around the post-Brexit trading arrangement passed its second stage in the House of Commons this week.

During the debate, former Prime Minister Theresa May warned moves to scrap unilaterally parts of Northern Ireland’s Brexit deal are “not legal” and will “diminish” the UK’s global standing.

The UK Government has argued the measures to remove checks on goods and animal and plant products travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are necessary to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement and peace and stability.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss downplayed the concerns of MPs by arguing the Bill has a “strong legal justification” and the UK remains committed to seeking a negotiated solution.

The imposition of checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in order to keep an open border with Ireland has angered unionists.

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But capitals across the EU bloc reacted with outrage to the plans to override parts of the protocol, amid concerns it breaches international law.

However, Professor Boyle said those who argue such legislation breaches international law “should know better” and said the UK Govenment’s actions could be justified in international law if it used the Article 16 provisions of the protocol.

This article is the provision in the agreement which allows parts of the protocol to be suspended if it is causing demonstratable societal harm.

“I read the bill as laying the groundwork for a notice of derogation. Article 16 allows them to do so where they consider it necessary,” he told MPs.

“If the collapse of power sharing in Northern Ireland isn't a societal difficulty, I don’t know what is.

“The Prime Minister got it right in the G7 recently when he said we are trying to save powersharing in Belfast.

“Without powersharing there will not be peace and there will not be a long-term future.

“The protocol itself... one of the purposes is to protect the Belfast Agreement. In my view derogations that are carefully focused under Article 16 for the purpose of restoring powersharing are lawful and legitimate and entirely consistent with the protocol.”

Prof Boyle argued the Bill is not “shredding the protocol” and argued government ministers need to “get their act together and sing from the same hymn sheets”.

He did however suggest the government should seek assurances from the DUP that they will return to Stormont and operate the institutions if the Bill passes.

“If I were appearing for the government, I would like to be able to stand up and say the DUP have agreed to go back into government when this bill has passed,” he added.

“It’s going to be difficult to defend the derogations if powersharing is not going to resume at the end of the whole thing.

“The protocol commits both parties the UK and EU to protecting powersharing we both have a shared responsibility on that.

“I think there is a question on how far the EU has taken that point seriously. I read the bill as a serious attempt to put powersharing back on the road and I don’t read it as a violation of international law myself.”


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