Legislation to prevent any immediate collapse of Stormont’s institutions has passed its final stage in Westminster.
Its main purpose was to strengthen the stability of the executive in the face of another political crisis.
The DUP vote to bring down the Northern Ireland Protocol executive had put pressure on the government to speed up the bill.
Earlier, a DUP MP had warned that the protocol posed the greatest threat to Northern Ireland’s future.
The legislation would extend the time to replace the first or deputy prime minister in the event of a resignation from seven days to at least 24 weeks.
It would give time for a “cooling off” period if the prime minister or deputy prime minister resigns from their roles.
Now that the bill has passed the remaining stages in the House of Commons, it will later move on to the House of Lords, where it will also have to get royal approval and assent before it becomes law.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the bill will provide “necessary and well-awaited reforms to strengthen the sustainability of institutions in Northern Ireland”.
In January 2020, Northern Ireland’s major political parties returned to power-sharing after three years of stalemate.
Stormont collapsed in January 2017 when the two largest parties – the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin – split in a bitter discussion over the DUP’s handling of a green energy scandal.
The sides clashed after Sinn Féin said it would not return to an executive with the DUP unless legislation for an Irish language law was implemented.
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Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith told Parliament that there is a “clear and present danger” of a new Stormont collapse, unless legislation is passed soon to delay that possibility.
Mr. Smith was in office when the agreement was reached for the new approach of the new decade.
He said he was concerned that one or more of Stormont’s parties might “dive down the emergency escape route when things get too difficult politically.”
“There are currently a number of problems that could tempt the parties … this bill closes the cop-out option,” he said.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the bill represents an opportunity to “stop the crisis we are witnessing.”
Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said one of his “big frustrations” as a politician was that parties often “responded to the latest crisis” too late.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie has supported the move and has previously said he would like to see the bill accelerated.
DUP MP Ian Paisley told MPs that a “torpedo” had been fired at the power sharing.
He added that it was beyond the control of the unionist and nationalist parties.
“That torpedo is the Northern Ireland Protocol and until and unless governments decide to do what it says in its command document, that torpedo will throw those institutions below the line,” Paisley said.
“I urge the government to move now in invoking Article 16.”
Article 16 of the Protocol sets out the process for adopting unilateral “safeguard” measures if the EU or the UK conclude that the deal is causing serious problems.
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The Protocol is the Brexit deal that prevents a hard border with Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for goods.
This also creates a new trade border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, something the EU accepts is causing difficulties for many businesses.
Unionist politicians say the deal undermines Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.
The London and Brussels negotiators were stuck in talks for more than a week after the EU published its proposals to break the deadlock on the protocol.
The EU has suggested a reform package that would reduce the practical impacts of the protocol.
The UK wants a more fundamental change, including the removal of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from its oversight role in the agreement.
But the UK’s Brexit Minister earlier said that the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is not the only problem with the Northern Ireland protocol.
Lord Frost told the House of Lords that it meant “too much EU law” applied in Northern Ireland.
He suggested building on the approach taken in the broader EU-UK agreement, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
In that agreement there was a “replica” in which EU law was replaced by international law.
This paved the way for dispute arbitration, without a role for the Court of Justice.
“One way to deal with the problem is replication, it’s not the only way,” said Lord Frost.
Theresa May’s former Brexit advisor Raoul Ruparel said this approach “is not impossible and is definitely worth exploring as an option”.
However, writing on Twitter, he said it would be a “big deal” as TCA is very different from protocol.
He said the protocol “strays into much deeper regulatory areas than the TCA” and this approach would require the EU to accept “a separate set of rules governing an EU border that lies outside the Court of justice”.
Another Brexit expert, Mujtaba Rahman, of the Eurasia group, expressed skepticism that the EU considers this approach.
Also writing on Twitter, he said the TCA did indeed re-label “EU level playing field” as “international standards” but there was “no desire to do so with the protocol”.
Northern Ireland Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill met with Lord Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Tuesday to discuss protocol and other issues.
He said he made it clear that local businesses and workers need “stability and certainty: they want solutions and they want the protocol to work.”
“The Tories and the DUP cannot be allowed to undermine the opportunities for our businesses, producers and farmers to create jobs and attract investment,” O’Neill said.
“The UK government must work constructively with the EU so that the north can exploit the opportunities of the protocol for new jobs and find solutions to practical issues.”
- NI Brexit
- David Frost
- DUP (Democratic Unionist Party)
Protocol problems “must be solved by autumn”
- 1 day ago
Why is there a Brexit dispute over a European court?
- 12 October
Why does Brexit still have a problem with Northern Ireland?
- October 13
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