Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis has said that widely trailed British legislation to allow the London government to unilaterally repudiate elements of the Northern Ireland protocol will not feature in next week’s queen’s speech, a setting-out of the government legislative agenda for the year.
"Our focus is on resolving the issues with the protocol," Lewis said. "Ideally we want to do that by agreement with the European Union. " He is right. The problem is talks with Brussels are stalled. The BBC separately reported that there will be language included in the queen's speech about upholding the integrity of the Belfast Agreement.
Whether the decision to pull the pledge from the speech reflects a pragmatic turn on the part of the British government, or an unwillingness on the monarch's part to be seen to endorse a blatant breach of the UK's post-Brexit legal obligations, matters little. It is a welcome lowering of tensions, even if the prospect of the United Kingdom invoking article 16 of the withdrawal agreement suspending the whole deal still remains in Boris Johnson's armoury, brandished when he feels the need to raise the political temperature.
The temporary shelving of the Bill will disappoint unionists, notably the Democratic Unionist Party, which is threatening not to re-enter the Northern Executive unless the protocol is repudiated. But party leader Jeffrey Donaldson has long learnt not to place faith in Johnson's promises and appears to have qualified his party's position somewhat by insisting that the protocol will be only one factor among several in the DUP's decision to re-enter the Executive.
It is to be hoped that, when the votes in yesterday’s Assembly election are counted and digested, the DUP will have left itself enough room for manoeuvre to proceed to form an Executive. Binding the future of the Executive – so important to the good government of the North – to the dispute over the protocol serves nobody’s long-term interests, least of all the people of Northern Ireland.