Stormont deal: North’s ‘integral place’ within UK and access to its internal market key to accord

Safeguarding the Union document welcomed by Rishi Sunak, Chris Heaton-Harris and Jeffrey Donaldson

The text of the deal which secured the Democratic Unionist Party’s return to power-sharing in the North was published by the UK government on Wednesday ahead of its passage through parliament on Thursday.

The 80-page document, Safeguarding the Union, was released online on Wednesday afternoon.

Explicitly aimed at reassuring unionists, it said the measures would “copper-fasten Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom, fulfilling the Acts of Union 1800; strengthen the UK’s internal market; and safeguard new protections into the future”.

The command paper was welcomed in the House of Commons by the UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, and by the northern secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, and DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, who spoke side by side at a joint press conference at Hillsborough Castle on Wednesday evening.


Mr Heaton-Harris said it was a “positive and decisive step forward for Northern Ireland”, while Mr Donaldson it was an “opportunity to bank the progress that we have made, the gains and the changes we have secured, and continue making the case for further change”.

Much of the contents of the document had been previously signalled, including “affirming Northern Ireland’s constitutional position in the union” and the guarantee of “Northern Ireland’s unfettered access to the UK’s internal market” through amendments to the UK Internal Market Act 2020.

Key points included the replacement of the so-called green lane with a UK internal market system “governing the movement of goods [travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland] which will remain within the UK, backed by new protections for historic trade flows and reductions in burdens and formalities”.

This would ensure “there will be no checks when goods move within the UK internal market system save those conducted by UK authorities as part of a risk-based or intelligence-led approach to tackle criminality, abuse of the scheme, smuggling and disease risks”.

It also ended dynamic alignment with EU law, with an amendment to section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to “recognise the end of the automatic pipeline of EU law”.

This change reflected “the new reality that the law which applies in Northern Ireland is now properly subject to the democratic oversight of the Northern Ireland Assembly through the Stormont Brake and the democratic consent mechanism”, the command paper said.

There will be a legal requirement that new legislation will be “assessed as to whether it impacts on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and, if so, for ministers to make a statement considering any impacts on the operation of Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market”.

In total, the document includes more than 20 provisions, such as the creation of an independent monitoring panel to “provide oversight of the implementation of new arrangements”; the creation of a UK east-west council; and the publication of operational arrangements for the Stormont brake – the mechanism giving the Assembly the power to object to changes to EU laws that apply in Northern Ireland.

The UK government also committed to “remove the legal duties to have regard to the ‘all-island economy’ in section 10(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”, though it is not clear what this will mean in practice.

The UK government will also “pursue an agreement with the EU on a long-term basis” to ensure the continued supply of necessary veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland beyond 2025.

It added that, if necessary, this would be secured by unilateral action – “by a guarantee of flexibilities that would be deployed by the [UK] government.

“We will also shortly set out plans to introduce legislation in the spring that would avoid new regulatory divergence between GB and NI on veterinary medicines,” the command paper stated.

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times