DUP members engage legal counsel ahead of potential NI Protocol court challenge

David Young, PA

A group of DUP members have engaged senior legal counsel to prepare for a series of challenges against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The PA news agency understands that a senior DUP member, supported by a number of others in the party, have sought the legal opinion of constitutional law experts ahead of several potential High Court challenges in both Belfast and London against the Government over post-Brexit Irish Sea trading arrangements.

The move comes amid ongoing unionist and loyalist anger at new regulatory and customs processes required to bring goods into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

A party source involved in the initiative told PA that preparatory work on a “series of very significant legal challenges” is at an “advance staged”.

“No stone will be left unturned in the pursuit of justice for the people of the Union,” the source said.

New inspection facilities for goods arriving at Belfast Port from Great Britain (Liam McBurney/PA)

While the shape of the potential challenges has not yet been detailed, many unionists have argued that the protocol undermines both the Act of Union and the Northern Ireland Act, which gives legislative effect to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

Another potential legal challenge against the Government over the terms of the protocol is being threatened by peer Baroness Kate Hoey, Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister and former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib.

It is understood the DUP leadership has not been directly involved in the legal bid initiated by the senior party member.

The party leadership has rolled out a five-point plan in recent weeks aimed at frustrating the operation of the protocol.

That campaign includes a boycott of North-South ministerial engagement on issues related to the contentious trading arrangements.

The party also initiated an online petition to secure a parliamentary debate on the protocol – the debate is due to take place at Westminster on Monday.

The NI Protocol has prompted unionist and loyalist anger in Northern Ireland (Brian Lawless/PA)

The protocol was agreed by the EU and UK to overcome one of the main sticking points in the Brexit withdrawal talks – the Irish border.

It keeps that frontier free flowing by Northern Ireland remaining in the single market for goods and applying EU customs rules at its ports.

The protocol instead moved the regulatory and customs border to the Irish Sea, with a series of checks, certifications, inspections and declarations now required on many goods being shipped into the region from Great Britain.

This has led to some trading disruption since the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

It has also heightened political tensions in Northern Ireland, with unionists enraged with arrangements they claim drive an economic wedge between the region and the rest of the UK, undermining the constitutional integrity of the Union as a consequence.

Another layer of protocol red tape comes into effect on Monday, when health certifications will be required on sausages and other chilled meats entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

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