Northern Ireland’s leading pro-UK party on Sunday said it was seeking a judicial review of a Brexit protocol agreed by London and Brussels that has disrupted trade and triggered some food shortages in the province.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said it wanted courts to declare the Northern Ireland Protocol incompatible with the 1800 Act of Union, which merged the kingdoms of Britain and Ireland, and with the 1998 Good Friday Belfast Agreement, which ended three decades of political unrest in the territory.
“Fundamental to the Act of Union is unfettered trade throughout the United Kingdom,” DUP leader Arlene Foster said in a statement.
“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,” she said. “The views of unionists will not be sidelined nor our concerns silenced.”
The British government and Brussels have been working to fix growing problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol since the UK formally quit all EU structures at the end of last year.
While the UK left the EU’s single market and customs union, both sides agreed in the special protocol to keep Northern Ireland inside the market, so avoiding the need for a potentially troublesome hard border with EU member Ireland.
Instead, customs checks are required on goods entering Northern Ireland from mainland Britain, in case they end up in the EU single market via Ireland.
Those checks have triggered widespread confusion among businesses, with some UK suppliers refusing to ship goods across the Irish Sea, leading to some bare shelves in Northern Irish supermarkets and customers there unable to order items online.
British Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, who cochair a committee on the protocol’s implementation, this month vowed to “spare no effort” on finding solutions.
They agreed to reconvene by tomorrow.
Gove has been pressing Sefcovic, so far in vain, to extend a three-month grace period for Northern Irish supermarkets for most checks until 2023.
From yesterday, EU health certifications would be required on sausages and other chilled meats entering Northern Ireland from Britain.
Fears of sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland were further fueled after the European Commission early this month said that it would restrict COVID-19 vaccine exports to the territory, as the bloc struggles with its own supply.
Although the EU quickly backtracked, the abortive move has intensified opposition to the new regulations, and threats against customs officials forced the temporary suspension of checks at two ports in Northern Ireland this month.
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