Sunak and von der Leyen speak on NI protocol deal
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Rishi Sunak’s so-called “Stormont brake” has been branded “meaningless” a day after the Prime Minister unveiled his Northern Ireland Protocol deal by a former Brexit Party MEP who also warned it would be almost impossible to trigger. Mr Sunak today headed to Belfast to try and sell his agreement to Unionists, insisting it addresses their concerns despite the “small and limited” role for European Union law and its court.
The Stormont brake must be requested by a third of Stormont MLAs – although it can only be used “in the most exceptional circumstances”, the EU and Britain agreed on Monday.
If they do so, an issue will be subject to a cross-community vote – in effect a referendum – before it can proceed in the assembly.
However, Ben Habib, one of 29 Brexit Party MEPs elected to the European Parliament in 2019, said the mechanism was not the failsafe Mr Sunak, who staged a joint press conference in London with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, was painting it as.
Brussels had likely taken into account the fact that Northern Ireland backed Remain in 2016, a fact reflected in the current composition of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr Habib suggested.
He said: “The so-called Stormont brake is meaningless.
“It suggests Stormont may raise objections to new EU laws. But it may only do so in exceptional circumstances, after having commissioned and considered impact assessments and then only if Westminster sustains those concerns.
“And even then, if an EU law is rejected, the EU would have the right to take remedial action.
“In other words, Stormont may, after huge effort, on occasion successfully block an EU law, only to have its effects imposed on Northern Ireland in some other way.”
The Stormont Brake, and the Windsor Framework, both of which were published yesterday, are intended to resolve the ongoing dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the agreement struck between the UK and the EU with the intention of preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Critics – including Mr Habib – claim it has instead resulted in a border down the Irish Sea, and the property developer spearheaded an ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge against the protocol last year.
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He said: “A huge amount of time and money would have to be expended by unionist politicians policing new EU laws and then combating them.
“The siege mentality under which unionism is currently forced to exist, forever fighting the existential threat to their place in the United Kingdom, would continue apace.”
Speaking in a pooled clip for broadcasters during a visit to County Antrim, the Prime Minister said he wanted to work with the parties to agree how it would be applied in practice.
He said: “The Stormont brake is an incredibly powerful new cross-community safeguard. What it means is that the people and institutions of Northern Ireland are in control of their destiny.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party would assess the legal text before coming to a “collective” conclusion.
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He explained: “Let me be clear, our party officers, our assembly members, our members of parliament, and ultimately, our party executive, will determine the party’s approach on this issue.
“We will consult and we will take our time. We will talk to people. We will listen to what people are saying, they will articulate their views. “
Sir Jeffrey added: “Of course, there will be a diversity and a range of views.
“People will react in different ways. But the DUP will come to a collective decision on this agreement.”
When asked for a timescale, he stressed: “It will take as long as it takes. We want to get this right, that’s the important thing.”
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