Johnson’s Plan to Break Northern Ireland Brexit Deal Passes First Commons Test

Boris Johnson’s attempt to effectively break parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol passed the first hurdle in the House of Commons amid Tory warnings that the plans were illegal.

Ps voted 295 to 221, a majority of 74, to introduce the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on second reading, paving the way for its scrutiny in the coming weeks.

The prime minister said the proposed law, which would give ministers the power to revoke parts of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland deal, could be implemented “quite quickly”, with proposals in law by the end of the year.

But his No. 10 predecessor, Theresa May, led the criticism from conservatives when she gave a withering assessment of the bill’s legality and impact.


Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the bill has a “strong legal basis” (Stefan Rousseau/PA).

Ms May has made it clear she will not support the legislation and warned that it will “diminish” the UK’s global standing.

Other Conservative MPs joined Ms May in expressing concern, though they chose not to try to block the bill on a second reading and look set to push for amendments instead.

The House of Lords is also expected to challenge parts of the bill, leading to a protracted standoff between the two houses.

Mr Johnson’s government said the move to remove checks on goods and products of animal and plant origin from the UK to Northern Ireland is necessary to protect the Good Friday Agreement and peace and stability.

“What we are trying to do is fix what I think is very important for our country, which is the balance between the Belfast Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement,” he told reporters at the G7 summit in Germany.

“You have one tradition, one community that feels like things are not really working the way they like or understand, you have unnecessary barriers to trade between the UK and Northern Ireland.


Former Prime Minister Theresa May (Andy Buchanan/PA)

“All we are saying is that you can get rid of them without endangering the EU single market in any way.”

Asked if action could be taken this year, Mr Johnson said: “Yes, I think we could do it very quickly if it’s up to Parliament.”

He said it would be “even better” if we could “get some of the flexibility we need in our conversations with Maros Šefkovic, Vice President of the European Commission.”

The Prime Minister added: “We remain optimistic.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tried to downplay MPs’ concerns, saying the bill had “strong legal grounds” and the UK remained committed to finding a negotiated solution.

But Ms May told the House of Commons: “The position of the UK in the world, our ability to unite and encourage others in defense of our common values, depends on others respecting us as a country, a country that keeps its word, and reflects these common values ​​in their actions.

“As a patriot, I would not want to do anything that would demean this country in the eyes of the whole world.


UK says its unilateral approach is the only option left to deal with problems baked into the Northern Ireland Protocol. (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“I must tell the government that this bill is not, in my opinion, legal in international law, it will not achieve its objectives and will worsen the position of the United Kingdom in the eyes of the whole world, and I cannot support it.”

Former Conservative Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith also said: “I fear this bill is a sort of departure from the main goal of doing everything we can to negotiate a better protocol agreement for Northern Ireland.

“I also fear that this may give unions the impression that a black and white solution is available when the reality is that once this bill is dragged through the lords and courts, and EU retaliation and reprisals, a compromise will eventually be needed.”

But former Conservative Attorney General Sir Robert Buckland said the government needed to act because there was a growing and “real threat”.

Unionist opponents of the checks led the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to refuse to return to the power-sharing executive in Stormont, leaving the region without a functioning government.

DUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson acknowledged that the bill was not perfect, but said: “It gives ministers the freedom to make changes where they are needed to ensure the proper functioning of the UK internal market.”

Sir Geoffrey also warned the Lords before the debate that blocking the legislation would be akin to “destroying the Good Friday Agreement”.

Alliance MP Stephen Farry (North Down) said: “This is a very bad bill, it is undesirable, unnecessary and, indeed, dangerous.”

Sinn Fein MP John Finucane called the government’s plans “shameful” and said they would mean “increased instability” for the region.

He told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster: “It’s very interesting that we’re watching a sovereign parliament debating whether to continue breaking international law or not.”

A spokesman for Number 10 said on Monday that the government has never set a “hard date” for when it hopes to see the bill pass.