Government ‘committed to ensuring Northern Ireland voice is heard over backstop’

The Government has pledged to give the Stormont Assembly a “strong role” in the triggering and operation of the contentious border backstop.

Downing Street has also promised that Great Britain will not diverge from the “small fraction” of EU rules which would continue to apply in Northern Ireland if the protocol designed to maintain a free-flowing Irish border is activated.

In a paper published on Wednesday, the Government outlined a series of commitments specific to the region, designed to temper concerns that the backstop would see Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK.

The pledges include:

– If a wider EU/UK trade deal fails to materialise by the end of the Brexit Implementation Period in 2020, there would be a legally-binding commitment to “consult” with Stormont before deciding to either enter the backstop or ask for an extension of the Implementation Period.

The view of the Assembly would then be presented to Parliament before MPs took a final decision on the issue.

– If the backstop does come into effect, the Stormont Assembly and Executive would be given a role in its operation, with the legislature being asked to consent to any new or amended EU laws applying to the region.

– Great Britain will not diverge from the EU rules which would apply in Northern Ireland if the backstop was triggered.

The Government said those would only account for a “small fraction” of all Single Market rules.

The paper stated: “By so doing we would ensure everything possible had been done to avoid any additional preventable barriers within the UK internal market.”

– A new domestic law to “underscore” that there would continue to be “unfettered access” for Northern Ireland goods entering the GB market in the backstop scenario.

The paper stated: “It is critical that the law is unequivocal in setting out that businesses in Northern Ireland would retain full access to the whole UK internal market, even in a backstop scenario. We will enshrine this protection in primary legislation.”

– Politicians in Northern Ireland will have a role in influencing the Government’s approach to a number of joint UK/EU forums which will be established to oversee the Withdrawal Agreement.

This would see a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreed between the Government and any future Stormont Executive, setting out the devolved administration’s role in respect of the three main bodies – the Joint Committee, the Specialised Committee on the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the Joint Consultative Working Group.

– A restatement of the Government’s commitment to safeguard the Good Friday (Belfast) peace agreement, in particular its central tenet, the “principle of consent” – namely that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland can only change if a majority in the region vote for it.

– A commitment to preserve the existing remit of North-South political structures established by the Good Friday deal, meaning their number and scope could not be altered by the outworking of the Brexit deal.

– Northern Ireland, like Scotland and Wales, will be handed greater powers post-Brexit, taking on many of the areas of responsibility that will be no longer governed by EU law.

– If a wider UK/EU trade deal is ultimately struck, the interests of Northern Ireland will be fully reflected in it.

In conclusion, the Government paper stated: “We are committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard at all stages both in any decision to bring the backstop into effect, and in its implementation should it be needed.

“The Belfast Agreement will be protected in full, with no expansion of North-South co-operation without the cross-community consent requirements set out in that agreement.

“We will continue to ensure protections for Northern Ireland businesses and will provide for an enhanced role for the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, when they are restored, in shaping our future relationship with the EU and in ensuring that domestic law continues to reflect the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland.”

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