Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster is to launch a legal challenge against the Northern Ireland protocol of the EU-UK Brexit deal.
Ahead of a debate on the agreed mechanism in the House of Commons on Monday, the North’s First Minister said she was joining with “like-minded” unionists in a two-pronged legal and political assault on the clause.
Other senior DUP figures, Jeffrey Donaldson, Nigel Dodds and Sammy Wilson, have said they will be named parties in the threatened judicial review proceedings against the section of the deal, co-brokered by British prime minister Boris Johnson.
“Alongside the political action we have been taking, we have considered a number of legal routes, and will be joining other unionists from across the United Kingdom in judicial review proceedings to challenge the protocol, unless arrangements are put in place which are consistent with the Act of Union 1800, the Northern Ireland Act of 1998 and the Belfast Agreement,” said Ms Foster on Sunday.
De facto trade border
Anger has been mounting among many unionists and loyalists to a de facto trade border in the Irish Sea – entailing customs and regulatory checks – as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the EU and efforts to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Ms Foster indicated the “like-minded unionists” who will join the legal challenge include former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib, Labour peer Kate Hoey and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister.
“Fundamental to the Act of Union is unfettered trade throughout the United Kingdom,” she said.
“At the core of the Belfast Agreement was the principle of consent, yet the Northern Ireland protocol has driven a coach and horses through both the Act of Union and the Belfast Agreement.”
Ms Foster said there was no consent from the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Northern Ireland Executive or the people of the North for the flow of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland “being impeded by checks”.
“We are following our five-point plan of opposition to the protocol and will challenge its imposition in the courts, in parliament, in Stormont and in Brussels. The views of unionists will not be sidelined nor our concerns silenced,” she added.
The DUP’s five-point plan includes a boycott of North-South ministerial engagement on issues related to the contentious trading arrangements as well as an online petition which has secured a parliamentary debate on the protocol, which is to take place at Westminster on Monday.
‘Febrile political environment’
SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said the threatened legal action is “ill-judged and will only further entrench the febrile political environment, as well as creating further uncertainty for people and businesses”.
“There will be few with sympathy for the argument that the protocol, which prevents a hard border in Ireland and guarantees dual market access for local businesses, breaches the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
Over the weekend, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the DUP’s stance on the protocol was “disappointing”, and urged the party to “dial down the rhetoric” and work towards “a practical resolution to any difficulties within the structure of the Withdrawal Agreement which followed Brexit”.
“A lot of work was done over several years on this, and it’s not even two months since January... I think the most effective way to deal with the questions is within the Agreement,” he said.
“As I said before, we need to dial down the rhetoric ...That type of politics is no good for anyone in my opinion. We all have an obligation to dial it down, to come together to discuss these questions... we have to put politics aside and deal with the issues within an economic, social and practical context.”