Northern Ireland Protocol lawful, Supreme Court rules following challenge

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (left), Ben Habib (second left), Baroness Kate Hoey (centre), and former first minister Dame Arlene Foster (right), outside the UK Supreme Court in London
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (left), Ben Habib (second left), Baroness Kate Hoey (centre), and former first minister Dame Arlene Foster (right), outside the UK Supreme Court in London.

A Supreme Court challenge to the Northern Ireland Protocol post-Brexit trading arrangements has been unanimously dismissed.

The legality of the contentious trading arrangements had been challenged by a collective of unionists and Brexiteers.

Arguments were considered by the UK's highest court at a two-day hearing last year after the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling in Belfast High Court dismissing the legal challenge.

The protocol, which is a key aspect of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, was jointly designed by London and Brussels to keep Ireland's land border free flowing following the UK's departure from the EU.

Reacting to the Supreme Court judgment dismissing a legal challenge against the Northern Ireland Protocol, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the case had highlighted why unionists are opposed to the trading arrangements.

Sir Jeffrey, who attended the judgment hearing in London, said: "A solution to the protocol was never going to be found in the courts, but the cases have served to highlight some of the reasons why unionists have uniformly rejected the protocol.

"The Government must consider this judgment, their own arguments to the court and take the steps necessary to replace the protocol with arrangements that unionists can support.

"The protocol represents an existential threat to the future of Northern Ireland's place within the Union. The longer the protocol remains, the more it will harm the Union itself.

"The checks on the Irish Sea border are the symptom of the underlying problem, namely, that Northern Ireland is subject to a different set of laws imposed upon us by a foreign entity without any say or vote by any elected representative of the people of Northern Ireland.

"Over eighteen months ago we outlined the parameters for the way forward. We set our tests and those continue to be our yardstick for measuring any deal between the EU and UK.

"Political progress in Northern Ireland was hard won and is built on the support of unionists and nationalists. Not one unionist MLA or MP supports the protocol. The idea that one section of our people will dominate the other and ignore the concerns of unionists is the opposite of powersharing and will never produce durable or balanced outcomes.

"There will be no solid basis for an Executive and Assembly until the protocol is replaced with arrangements that restore NI's place in the UK internal market and our constitutional arrangements are respected."

SDLP Stormont leader Matthew O'Toole said the Supreme Court judgment provided "important clarity" on the lawful status of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He said: "I understand that the applicants will be disappointed in this ruling but would urge caution and restraint to those who have used this case with a view to undermining devolution in its entirety.

"Following this judgment, it is now critical that the EU and UK negotiating teams reach a comprehensive resolution that protects our unique access to the single market for goods while addressing the concerns around protocol implementation that have given rise to sincere objections related to trade barriers and identity issues in the unionist community.

"The people of Northern Ireland deserve government.

"That is the challenge we should all be working together to address, for patients waiting for a hospital appointment, for families waiting for cost of living support, for parents who need help with the cost of childcare."

TUV leader Jim Allister, one of those who brought the legal challenge, said the Supreme Court verdict did not affect the "political unacceptability" of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He said: "The essence of our legal challenge was to the lawfulness of the protocol.

"The fact the Supreme Court is satisfied it was lawfully made does not in the least affect its political unacceptability, nor its dire constitutional consequences.

"Indeed, findings of the Supreme Court greatly strengthen our case against the protocol.

"The declaration that the protocol has suspended Article 6 of the Acts of Union confirms everything we have said about it dismantling the Union. Article 6 is the bedrock of the economic union that is the United Kingdom."

He added: "If anything, the Supreme Court ruling must embolden the political campaign against the protocol, because that is now the critical arena of challenge.

"There can be no let up or discharge in the political war against the Protocol, else our place in the United Kingdom will never be restored. It is hard to see how Stormont ever returns in circumstances where Article 6 of the Acts of Union is in suspension."

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