London plans to dismiss elements of protocol played down by Dublin

Downing Street claims Northern Ireland protocol is damaging Belfast Agreement

Irish Government sources have played down reports that the British government intends to introduce legislation that would enable it to set aside parts of the Northern Ireland protocol.

Recent reports in the British media have suggested that prime minister Boris Johnson will signal in next week’s queen’s speech – where the UK government sets out its legislative agenda – that it will table a Bill which would include powers to cancel parts of the protocol.

The latest report is in the current edition of the Spectator magazine. British government sources have told The Irish Times that the queen’s speech was unlikely to specifically refer to the protocol; it was likely to include references to the intention to protect the Belfast Agreement. Downing Street maintains that the protocol is damaging the agreement, because of unionist opposition to it.

On Wednesday night, the Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis told ITV that his government had not said it intended to legislate to set aside the protocol, but wanted to protect the Belfast Agreement.

Civic society

“What we’ve been clear about is at the moment, the protocol is causing problems in civic society, it’s causing problems with the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement. Our duty to the people of Northern Ireland is to resolve those issues,” he said.

Irish Government sources, familiar with discussions on the issue, said Dublin was relaxed on the various reports and pronouncements coming from London, but would seek to engage with the British government after the northern elections, and the local elections in Britain, in an effort to ensure the power-sharing institutions in Stormont function.

“Let’s see what the election results are and what they mean, and then let’s sit down and try to work out a way forward,” one source said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney spoke to British foreign secretary Liz Truss by videolink on Wednesday night, and had a similar meeting with Mr Lewis on Thursday morning.

As ever, however, Dublin points out that negotiations on the protocol are a matter for the EU.

Checks and bureaucracy

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said that he will not join the Executive unless the NI protocol – which requires some checks on good entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain – is scrapped or changed. If the DUP is the largest unionist party, which polls predict, the Executive cannot be formed without it.

However, British sources have stopped short of demanding that the protocol be scrapped, saying instead that it needs to be changed to make the checks and bureaucracy less intrusive.

Meanwhile, newly elected MLAs in the North face being locked out of Stormont as key staff are threatening a strike which could paralyse the parliament.

As voters went to the polls to return 90 elected representatives to the devolved Assembly, Northern Ireland Public Servants Alliance (Nipsa) says it has been “left with no other option” but industrial action.

Members are in dispute with their employers, the Assembly Commission, about what it claims is a de facto pay cut as well as “restrictive” work from home policies as pandemic restrictions recede.

Unless management “get around the table” to forge agreement, key workers at Parliament Buildings will start strike action next Thursday, when new MLAs are set to return to try to establish a new power-sharing Executive, Nipsa says.