Politics Explained

What does the ruling on the Northern Ireland protocol mean for the future of the union?

Sean O’Grady explains what today’s ruling means and why it makes volatility at the Irish border an increasingly likely prospect

Wednesday 30 June 2021 21:30

Answering a couple of tetchy Northern Irish Unionist MPs at PMQs, Boris Johnson promised to “study carefully” the latest judgment from the High Court in Belfast. As well he might, too. For Mr Justice Colton ruled that there was no case for a full judicial review of the Northern Ireland protocol on the grounds that: It conflicted with the Act of Union 1801 (which incorporated Ireland into the United Kingdom); it contravened the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland (because they’ve no direct say in it); it contradicted the Good Friday Agreement or, indeed, European law.

He agreed that the protocol, which forms part of the Brexit deal and has the status of an international treaty, was inconsistent with the original Act of Union (which applies vestigially to the six counties of the north of Ireland), but concluded that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (as amended) superseded and effectively repealed parts of the old legislation. He gave short shrift to the other grievances, ie on legal grounds.

The net effect of all this is to weaken the Unionist case for scrapping the protocol. Other legal machinations might be pursued, but, as Ian Paisley told the prime minister in the Commons, getting rid of the protocol will have to be done through political means and via parliament rather than in courtrooms.

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