Baroness Hoey has at 6pm moved an amendment in the House of Lords which seeks to torpedo the continuation of the Protocol by laying an amendment to the NI Act which would undo the provisions inserted by the Secretary of State (section 56A and Schedule 6A) which seeks to prevent unionism vetoing the continuation of the Protocol by recourse to a petition of concerns.
Baroness Hoey has given the following speech:
The amendments laid today are designed to restore the balance which is at the heart of the Belfast Agreement. That Agreement has been unbalanced by the manner by which the Protocol has sought to nullify cross community protections to prevent them being utilised by unionists in order to vote down the Protocol which has been accepted by the Government’s own barristers as “subjugating the Acts of Union”. The very essence of the Union subjugated by the Protocol, how can any MP or peer who values the Union stand over that approach?
The Government, in the command paper, and in subsequent contributions by Lord Frost, have conceded the Protocol has no consent from the unionist community and identified that as a core problem. It is time therefore to restore the fundamental balance and cross community protections inherent within the Belfast Agreement. In the absence of those core pillars being restored, there is no basis for any unionist to continue to support the Agreement.
This amendment would restore the principle of cross community consent for key decisions which is a core commitment in Strand One (5) (d) of the Belfast Agreement. The House will note this relates to any “key decision” coming before the Assembly. The later efforts to create some technical loophole to justify demolishing this cross community consent mechanism for the Protocol vote because, it is claimed, it is not devolved.
As the house will know, the Secretary of State by Regulations unilaterally amended the 1998 Act inserting s56A and Schedule 6A. That has the effect of disapplying cross community consent, and in practical terms it is designed to nullify cross community protections being utilised by unionists. Can this House imagine for one moment the outcry if the Northern Ireland Act was unilaterally amended to nullify cross community protections for nationalists?
We have heard much talk of protecting the Belfast Agreement, but what that really seems to mean is protecting nationalist interests. So, all those who claim adherence to the Belfast Agreement should support it in all its parts, and that means the protections must apply for unionists every bit as much as to nationalists.
These amendments restore the fundamental principle of cross community consent, and the ultimate outworking of that is that if these amendments are passed then the Protocol, come 2024, can not continue in the absence of a resolution which commands cross community support. A simple majority vote of nationalists would not suffice.
A vote against such a restoration of balance is to send a message to the unionist community that cross community protections are really just nationalist protections. I need not point out how corrosive that is.
If the Government wish to be loyal to their command paper, and their New Decade New Approach promise to protect the UK Internal Market, then the way to do that is to insert these amendments and correct the monumental error in disapplying cross community consent.
Repealing s56A and Schedule 6A would cut out the corrosive infection which has been injected into the Belfast Agreement by the Protocol.
It is also important to restore the primacy of the cross-community protections and to make very clear that the constitutional statute in the form of the Northern Ireland Act can not be subjugated by the general words in section 7A of the Withdrawal Agreement. Of course, we say section 7A has no such effect in any event, but given the Government have come to the High Court and made that case, these amendments will make it expressly clear the primacy of the key cross community protections.