A group of Brexiteers are taking legal action against the Government over the hated Northern Ireland Protocol. A two-day hearing opens today for the conjoined cases brought by former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister, and Baroness (Kate) Hoey. The case will be heard by the Supreme Court together with a separate claim brought by Belfast-based pastor Clifford Peeples, after both appeals were dismissed by the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland.
Both cases claim the Northern Ireland Protocol is unlawful, arguing it is incompatible with the Acts of Union 1800 which ensures equal trade footing between Britain and Ireland.
Mr Habib has accused the EU of “designing” the protocol to “break the United Kingdom”.
He has called for the UK to take “decisive unilateral action” to repeal the measures outlined in the protocol, claiming the EU is “bullying” the UK over the issue.
The Court of Appeal in Belfast rejected arguments that the post-Brexit trading arrangements breached the terms of the 1800 Acts of Union and the 1998 legislation that underpins the Good Friday Peace Agreement.
In the ruling, senior judges ruled that while the Withdrawal Act conflicted with the Acts of Union, Parliament knew the legislation involved and acted lawfully in enacting the latter.
They also found that the Northern Ireland Act 1998 “has no impact on the legality of the changes enacted by the Withdrawal Agreement”.
At the time of the ruling, SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole urged unionist politicians to focus on the cost of living crisis.
“With families struggling to heat their homes and the continent of Europe facing humanitarian catastrophe, the sight of politicians fixating on the protocol would be absurd, if its wasn’t so irresponsible.
“Where there are issues on GB-NI trade that require smoothing, the solution is through discussion and engagement – rather than collapsing political institutions and mounting quixotic legal challenges.”
There has been no functioning government in Stormont since the elections last May, as the DUP has refused to restore powersharing unless the Northern Ireland Protocol is scrapped.
An election was triggered in Stormont in October after the executive was blocked from meeting due to the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Executive Formation Bill, which passed its third reading yesterday, will extend the deadline for the Northern Ireland Assembly to be formed until December 8, with the possibility of a further six-week extension to 19 January.
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If the DUP does not end its boycott of the Stormont assembly by 8 December, the bill will give Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris the option to either call an election or extend the deadline by six weeks to 19 January.
The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit – since October 2021.
It allows Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s single market for goods but it has faced criticism because a border was effectively created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea.
The border has led to delays, supermarket shortages and increased costs for businesses in Northern Ireland.