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North Ireland court rejects challenge to Brexit protocol

BELFAST (AFP) – Belfast’s Appeal Court ruled yesterday that a Brexit protocol between Brussels and London is lawful, blocking a bid to scrap the controversial arrangement which governs trade in Northern Ireland.

The protocol – part of the United Kingdom’s (UK) divorce deal with the European Union (EU) – has proved deeply unpopular with Northern Ireland’s pro-UK unionist politicians, who launched the legal challenge.

Lawyers for the unionist politicians, including former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leaders, are expected to launch an appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court after the case was also rejected by the High Court in Belfast in June.

They have argued the Brexit legislation is incompatible with the 1998 Good Friday Belfast Agreement, which ended three decades of violence over British rule in the province.

Their legal teams also sought to scrap the protocol on the grounds it was incompatible with the 1800 Act of Union which merged the kingdoms of Britain and Ireland.

However, Lady Chief Justice Keegan dismissed both cases.

Signs point to an old customs and excise area on the Dublin road in Newry, Northern Ireland. PHOTO: AFP

Ahead of elections to Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly in May, the province’s politics have been plunged into crisis by issues surrounding the protocol.

Last month, Paul Givan, the unionist leader of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive, resigned from his position in protest against the post-Brexit trade mechanism, prompting the collapse of the devolved government.

The move has further complicated post-Brexit negotiations between Brussels and London – which has said it is also opposed to the protocol.

Issues surrounding the protocol overshadowed a recent visit by Irish prime minister Micheal Martin to London, where the Taoiseach looked to show a united front with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Martin said the impasse was “unlikely to be resolved” ahead of Northern Ireland’s elections.

Johnson said Brussels still needed to make “significant changes” to the protocol.

Ahead of the meetings, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said his party would not re-enter the power-sharing executive until the UK acts to “protect Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom”.

Northern Ireland’s unionist communities have railed against the protocol, saying that by keeping the province in the European single market, it threatens the province’s constitutional place in the UK.

Simmering anger about goods shortages and uncertainty for businesses blamed on the protocol boiled over into clashes between police and demonstrators last year that revived memories of the worst days of sectarian violence.