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A Message from Irish in Britain on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

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As the process for selecting a new Prime Minister progresses, it is notable that the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill has not been featured prominently by either candidates or commentators. This is disappointing to many in the Irish community and beyond at a time when the principles of effective leadership matter so much.

We are deeply concerned at the introduction of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which has been proposed by Secretary of State Liz Truss on 13 June 2022 and currently sits within the Committee Stage in the House of Commons. This legislative proposal allows the UK Government to break international law and unilaterally override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Protocol explicitly supports and protects the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in all its dimensions, ensures there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland and fully recognises the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.

For the Irish community in Britain, the Good Friday Agreement remains clear and tangible proof of the power of dialogue, compromise and a shared commitment to build a better future. Many of us remember how the Troubles deeply affected - and sometimes poisoned - community relations on these islands. No community outside the island of Ireland has a greater stake in the continued success of the Good Friday Agreement than the Irish in Britain. This bill, by its proposal and enactment, undermines the painstaking consensus, trust and institutions that made the Good Friday Agreement so successful.

While imperfect, the Protocol supports this peace and offers Northern Ireland a unique economic opportunity as the only place in the world whose goods continue to have dual access to both the European Union (EU) Single Market and the rest of the UK Internal Market. The EU recognises the challenges that remain around the Northern Ireland Protocol, but the operation of the agreement can be improved through negotiations in good faith.

It is deeply worrying that the UK government has now put forward a bill that would put the Good Friday Agreement in jeopardy. The British Government has a clear duty under the Good Friday Agreement to act with impartiality to all communities in Northern Ireland, however, their current proposal dismisses this obligation.

Confidence and trust can only be fully restored through negotiations with the EU to shape a Protocol solution that works in practice; ensuring the people of Northern Ireland are heard and represented through their institutions; and by fully respecting and carefully implementing the legal commitments already made. We urge the UK Government to desist from this unilateral legislation – which tarnishes the UK’s global reputation – and to reengage in negotiation with the EU to find agreed solutions to the Protocol implementation challenges.

As soon as this bill was officially introduced, Irish in Britain wrote to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State Liz Truss demonstrating our concern for the status of the Good Friday Agreement. We implored the UK government to seek negotiated policy solutions that will uphold the Good Friday Agreement in its entirety, return a functioning Northern Ireland Executive and support sustained peace in Northern Ireland. 

We now urge our members, friends, networks and all those who cherish the peace and stability of the last 24 years to ask your representatives to vote against the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. We have published an explainer on our website to give a synopsis of the issue and have created a letter template for our member organisations and wider diaspora to write to their MPs, particularly in Conservative constituencies. 

Over the past 24 years, the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement have enabled and supported positive British-Irish relations. This accord has delivered stability for all the people on the island of Ireland, particularly those living in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement and its institutions were and remain a high-water mark for bilateralism, leadership and dialogue. We believe these principles are a reasonable expectation of those who represent us today.

Irish in Britain