UK Brexit Law Won’t Break Northern Ireland Impasse, DUP Says

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(Bloomberg) — The UK government’s imminent publication of legislation to override the Brexit deal it negotiated for Northern Ireland won’t be enough to restore power-sharing in the region, a senior Democratic Unionist Party MP said.

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The UK is due to publish legislation later Monday setting out its plan to allow ministers to unilaterally amend the Northern Ireland protocol, risking retaliation from the EU and antagonizing the U.S. The move is likely to face stiff opposition in Britain’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, and it could be at least a year before the bill formally becomes law.

Sammy Wilson, whose party is refusing to participate in the Northern Irish executive in protest at the Northern Ireland protocol, said in an interview that there are too many uncertainties about whether the bill will even become law, and whether ministers will end up doing away with the most contentious parts of the post-Brexit settlement. Without DUP participation, a new regional government can’t be formed.

“If the government ever thought that simply the publication of the bill was going to trigger us going back into the assembly, it was never ever going to happen,” Wilson said in a phone interview. He cited past legislation where the government retreated “at the first smell of gun smoke in the battle with the EU,” saying “we’re not going to get bitten like that again.”

The UK has signaled it wants to continue talks with the EU to reach a negotiated settlement to fix the issues it has with the protocol, but is simultaneously pushing through domestic legislation in case the bloc doesn’t move.

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In a sign that Johnson’s plan risks causing further political upset in Northern Ireland, a majority of the region’s elected representatives co-signed a letter calling his approach “reckless” and one which “flies in the face of the expressed wishes of not just most businesses, but most people in Northern Ireland”.

“Your claims to be acting to protect our institutions is as much a fabrication as the Brexit campaign claims you made in 2016,” according to the letter signed by 52 of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s 90 members, including Sinn Fein’s first-minister designate Michelle O’Neill and Alliance party leader Naomi Long. “The way to build trust and consent in our arrangements is to engage seriously with the EU.”

(Updates with letter from assembly members in sixth paragraph.)

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