Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

The Northern Irish Protocol Must Go Now


The Acts of Union is the present constitutional foundation of the United Kingdom. As the late Lord Trimble, the unionist architecture of the Belfast Agreement, said: The Acts of Union is the Union.

The Northern Ireland Protocol "subjugates" (in the words of the Court of Appeal) Article VI of the Acts of Union, and therefore it follows that it subjugates the Union.

It should therefore be entirely rejected- in its entirety- by all those who value the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The EU act as if they have some legitimate sovereign claim over Northern Ireland, and obnoxiously offer that they will make the border they demand be imposed down the middle of our country invisible. Just who do these people think they are?

They have, of course, been assisted in their subjugation of Northern Ireland by the abominable behaviour of the Irish Government who have for their own political objectives partnered in the EU in constructing a rather malicious- and dangerous- trope that the Protocol, and thus the subjugation of the Union, is necessary to protect peace.

As leverage on the international plane, the Irish Government has sought to set itself up as the guardian of the Belfast Agreement "in all its parts". However, the method by which the Irish Government has deployed the 1998 Agreement is by holding up an interpretation of its provisions which is purely nationalist.

In circumstances whereby the 1998 Agreement was based on a series of ambiguous compromises, it was always going to the case that different parties to the Agreement would take differing views on what had been agreed. The Irish Government has adopted a purely nationalist interpretation of each provision, and this has caused many in the unionist/loyalist community to view the Belfast Agreement as a nationalist weapon to be deployed for the advancement of the United Ireland objective.

The deployment of the images of IRA bombs, presumably for political leverage, by then Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar during the Brexit negotiations has caused lasting and potentially irreparable damage to relationships between this Irish Government and the unionist/loyalist community.

In viewing the Belfast Agreement through the prism of nationalism's interpretation of this text, and in this context tying the 'protection of the Agreement' to the maintenance of 'peace', the message understood by the unionist community is that the price of the absence of republican terrorism is the continued progression of a 'process' which is designed to incrementally dismantle the Union.

This view has been solidified by the way the Irish Government presented the prospect of so much as CCTV camera on the border between two sovereign territories as a 'threat to peace and the Belfast Agreement', whilst championing the partitioning of the United Kingdom as a 'solution' to the supposed (and bogus) threat to the peace process.

There has yet to be a convincing answer as to why an Irish land border is a threat to peace, but yet an Irish Sea Border dividing the United Kingdom is not such a threat? Two possible explanations are, first, that the Irish Government does not care whether a sea border dividing the United Kingdom threatens peace; secondly, it may be that the Irish Government believe (in line with the nationalist interpretation of the Agreement) that the Belfast Agreement primarily or solely exists to incrementally- via a process of all-Ireland harmonisation- remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and into a United Ireland. This leads to the conclusion that a border in the Irish Sea is consistent with the Belfast Agreement, because the effect of the sea border is to place Northern Ireland into what amounts to an economic United Ireland, and in doing so loosens the union with Great Britain.

In contrast, that flawed belief (flowing from the nationalist interpretation of the Agreement) in turn causes the belief that any friction North-South is a threat to the Agreement and peace, because such friction is (on nationalism's case) inconsistent with the objective of the incremental development of all-Ireland harmonisation along the way to the pre-determined end point of a United Ireland.

The Irish Government will never admit to this thinking, because to do so would be to expose the well-founded suspicions of the unionist/loyalist community as to the weaponisation of the Belfast Agreement, and undermine Ireland on the international stage, that state as a partisan campaigners rather than, in its own self-portrayal as a fair guarantor of the Agreement.

In Strand One (5) (d) of the Belfast Agreement it is made clear that "key decisions" voted on by the Assembly are to be on a cross community basis. This then finds UK domestic law effect via section 42 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 ('the 1998 Act').

Article 18 of the Protocol expressly confers upon the Assembly the key function of deciding upon whether the Protocol will continue or not. Is it difficult to envisage a more consequential decision than that of the Protocol. Notwithstanding this, Article 18 requires that the Protocol consent vote be on a majority basis, thus requiring the disapplication of the cross-community safeguards.

It is notable when it had been suggested that the Protocol consent mechanism would require cross community consent for the Protocol to come into operation, the Irish Government rejected any such suggestion as providing a unionist veto. And yet, when Article 18 is constructed in a manner to deprive unionism of access to cross community safeguards, and effectively hand nationalism a veto due to the pro Irish/EU stance of Alliance. It seems a nationalist veto is not merely acceptable but required, whilst what is described as a unionist veto must be rejected.

The justification for the Article 18 destruction of Strand One (5) (d) of the Belfast Agreement is a dishonestly constructed argument that it was only ever intended to apply to devolved matters. It is patently obvious that nowhere within Strand One (5) (d) or section 42 of the 1998 Act is the provision of this safeguard restricted to only matters which are devolved or within the legislative competence of the Assembly.

In recent months the Irish Government has also sought to confuse the unionist/loyalist argument on consent. There are two types of consent in the Belfast Agreement:

(i) constitutional consent, which relates to section 1 (1) of the 1998 Act. This requires any change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland to receive the consent of a majority of people in the jurisdiction;

(ii) Governance consent, which enshrines cross community safeguards (Strand One (5) (d) of the Belfast Agreement and section 42 of the 1998 Act) on matters to be voted on by the Assembly.

It is the unionist/loyalist position, supported by unionism's leader at the time of the Belfast Agreement David Trimble, that both elements of consent are breached by the Protocol. As has already been set out above, cross community governance consent has been disapplied on the Article 18 Protocol consent vote.

In relation to constitutional consent- which is not a cross community vote- it is our position that this has been breached. The constitutional consent as understood by unionism protected the substance rather than merely the symbolism of Northern Ireland's constitutional status within the United Kingdom for so long as a majority of persons wished it to be so. Put simply, you cannot change everything but the last thing in relation to Northern Ireland's place in the Union, the last thing being merely the final formal hand-over of sovereignty.

The Protocol has "subjugated" the legislative constitutional basis of the United Kingdom (the Act of Union) in relation to Northern Ireland. This plainly amounts to a change in constitutional status. The failure of the Irish Government to recognise this demonstrates a clear unwillingness to uphold the Agreement in a balanced manner.

In addition, the Irish Government has suggested that if consent is required for the Protocol, so too should consent have been required for Brexit. They have also suggested that if consent was required for the Protocol, consent should be required for its removal.

These positions are fundamentally dishonest. In the first instance governance cross community consent could have no application to Brexit, it was a UK wide referendum. Any suggestion it should have been applicable is arrant nonsense which fundamentally misunderstands Strand One (5) (d) and section 42 of the 1998 Act.

In relation to constitutional consent for Brexit, this suggestion is equally vacuous. The principle of consent directs itself to Northern Ireland's constitutional status within the United Kingdom, not the United Kingdom's external relations. It is an internal rather than external provision. It is for that reason that the Protocol- which causes internal constitutional change- should require consent, whilst Brexit which related to external international relationships of the United Kingdom as a whole did not require consent.

The Irish Government's approach to the Belfast Agreement has undermined, perhaps fatally, support for that Agreement within the unionist/loyalist community.

It has also created the precedent whereby a threat to peace has been used for political leverage. It is the creation of that precedent which causes the threat to peace from the Protocol, because naturally there will be those in the loyalist community who will hear the message that violence pays, and given it was sufficient to prevent a land border, why shouldn't it equally be deployed to prevent a Sea border?

It is for that reason the Government must act to undo the repugnant precedent which rewards those who would threaten violence. The only way to do that, and thus genuinely protect peace and stability, is to completely remove the NI Protocol and restore the Acts of Union.

Font size: +

Related Posts

Contact us

Director : Robert Oulds
Tel: 020 7287 4414
Chairman: Barry Legg
The Bruges Group
246 Linen Hall, 162-168 Regent Street
London W1B 5TB
United Kingdom
Founder President :
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG, OM, FRS 
Vice-President : The Rt Hon. the Lord Lamont of Lerwick,
Chairman: Barry Legg
Director : Robert Oulds MA, FRSA
Washington D.C. Representative : John O'Sullivan CBE
Founder Chairman : Lord Harris of High Cross
Head of Media: Jack Soames