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Northern Ireland to get power to reject new EU laws and regulations in Brexit backstop

Edmund Heaphy
Ireland Correspondent
The Stormont Assembly will have the power to reject new EU laws and regulation in the backstop. Pic: Reuters

The Northern Ireland assembly will be entitled to reject new EU laws and regulations in the Brexit backstop, according to a paper published by the government on Wednesday.

As part of a series of commitments designed to shore up the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the paper says that Northern Ireland will be given “a strong voice and role in the backstop process.”

Though the proposals fall short of an outright veto, the government said that it will seek the agreement of the Northern Ireland assembly at Stormont if it were to consider agreeing to new areas of EU law that would specifically apply to Northern Ireland.

But Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP, has already branded the proposals “cosmetic and meaningless.”

In a statement, he said that the assembly “would not be able to override UK international legal obligations,” considering the backstop provisions would form part of the withdrawal treaty with the EU.

The support of the DUP, whose 10 MPs prop up Theresa May’s government in the House of Commons, could prove crucial if the prime minister is to get her Brexit deal through parliament.

Thus far, the DUP has been strident in its opposition to the deal.

Proposals

If the backstop, which aims to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland, comes into force, the UK would have to partly align itself with the bloc’s single market rules.

But, under the backstop protocol agreed, the introduction of any new regulations applicable to the UK would also require the consent of the UK.

As such, the paper says that the government will legislate to ensure that, in such a scenario, it “will be required to seek agreement of the Northern Ireland Assembly” before reaching an agreement with the EU about any additional provisions.

In addition, the Northern Ireland executive would be given a role on the joint and specialised EU-UK committees established by the withdrawal agreement, if Northern Ireland-specific issues are to be discussed.

The paper also puts into writing commitments made by May that there would be no discrepancy in the rules applied to Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK

The government, it says, “would ensure that there would be no divergence in the rules applied in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in areas covered by the Protocol.”

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

The Northern Ireland assembly, however, has been in a period of suspension for two years, following the collapse of power-sharing in January 2017 as a result of a disagreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Both parties also fundamentally disagree about Brexit, with the DUP staunchly in favour of the UK’s departure from the EU, and Sinn Féin opposed.

Sinn Féin, however, has indicated that it is similarly unimpressed with the provisions outlined in Wednesday’s document.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist party said the proposals were “merely window dressing and frankly toothless.”