DUP Leader announces Seven Tests for HMG plans on NI Protocol

DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP has set out Seven Tests for any new arrangements the Government would announce regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol.

These tests are grounded not in a unionist wish list, but in promises that have already been made in one form or another, to the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr Donaldson was speaking during a debate in the House of Commons on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Sir Jeffrey said,

“For people in Northern Ireland the political and economic stakes could not be higher as the protocol presents the greatest ever threat to the economic integrity of the United Kingdom.

The rigorous implementation of the protocol that some anti Brexit parties in Northern Ireland have called for would be bad for consumers and bad for business. It would be socially disruptive, economically ruinous and politically disastrous for Northern Ireland. As Lord Frost has repeatedly pointed out the Northern Ireland protocol in its present form is unsustainable and it needs to go.

Over the last fifty years if we have learnt anything in Northern Ireland it is that if our political arrangements are to last then they require support from right across the community. And there is not a single elected representative in any unionist party that supports the Northern Ireland protocol.

The Government has promised it will publish its plans for the future of the Northern Ireland protocol before Parliament rises for the summer recess. That cannot come a moment too soon.

Much has been said about how we got here but today I want to set out where we need to go from here. My party will not prejudge what the government has to say, but I want to make it clear what any new approach needs to achieve.

Today I am setting out my seven tests for any new arrangements.

Our tests are grounded not in a unionist wish list, but in promises that have already been made in one form or another, to the people of Northern Ireland. I do not believe that it is too much to ask that the government stands over these promises.

Firstly, new arrangements must fulfil the guarantee of the Sixth Article of the Act of Union 1800. The Act of Union is no ordinary statute. It is the constitutional statute which created the United Kingdom for the people I represent. The sixth article essentially requires that everyone in the United Kingdom is entitled to the same privileges, and be on the same footing as to goods in either country, and in respect of trade in the United Kingdom. Under the protocol this is clearly no longer the case.

The Prime Minister assured me that the passing of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 did not result in the implied repeal of Article 6 of this constitutional statute yet that is exactly what the High Court in Belfast held. Mr Justice Colton having heard the case concluded that the protocol does not put the people of Northern Ireland on an ‘equal footing’ with those in the rest of the UK.

It appears quite remarkable that such a foundational statute could have been repealed without the Prime Minister realising it. Indeed, unless someone can tell me differently there is no evidence that a single member of the House was aware that they were repealing and subverting aspects of the Act of Union.

Though the case is under appeal in Northern Ireland it is absolutely essential that any new arrangements honour the promise that was made in the sixth article of the Act of Union.

Secondly, any new arrangements must avoid any diversion of trade. It is simply not acceptable that consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland are told that they must purchase certain goods from the EU and not from Great Britain. In this regard it is notable that Article 16 of the protocol already permits the UK to take unilateral safeguarding measures to ensure that there is no diversion of trade.

Thirdly it is essential that any new arrangements that are negotiated do not constitute a border in the Irish Sea. This is the claim that the Secretary of State made on the 1 January and new arrangements need to see it implemented in deed as well as word. In line with the Act of Union, there should be no internal trade border in the UK. Northern Ireland’s place in the UK Internal Market must be fully restored.

Fourthly new arrangements must give the people of Northern Ireland a say in the making of the laws which govern them. This guarantee is implicit in Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the ECHR where it is stated, “The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.” The fact that a vast range of Single Market laws detailed in Annex 2 of the protocol apply in Northern Ireland without any democratic control is a clear breach of that promise and it must be rectified.

Fifthly, new arrangements must result in “no checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain or from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.” Again, these are not my words but the words of the Prime Minister on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme on 8 December 2019. We do of course accept that checks that were in place before Brexit should continue and goods that are proceeding on from Great Britain, through Northern Ireland, to the EU may have different arrangements.

Sixthly, new arrangements should ensure no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom unless agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. This commitment was made in paragraph 50 of the Joint Report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government in December 2017, and we expect it to be honoured.

Seventhly, new arrangements must preserve the letter and spirit of Northern Ireland’s constitutional guarantee set out most recently in the Belfast Agreement by requiring in advance the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland for any diminution in its status as part of the United Kingdom.

To reduce the constitutional guarantee to having a say in the final step of leaving the United Kingdom would mean that in effect it is no meaningful guarantee at all.

There is no practical or pragmatic reason why arrangements cannot be put in place which can satisfy these tests and prove no meaningful threat to the integrity of the EU Single Market. But with or without the agreement of the EU it is critical that the UK Government honours the promises that have been made to the people of Northern Ireland.

My party will be assessing any new arrangements against these seven tests and I hope for the sake of the integrity of the United Kingdom and the people of Northern Ireland, we will not be disappointed.”

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