The Northern Ireland secretary has confirmed the “Stormont brake” revealed in the new Brexit deal would be a veto, not just a delay.
Earlier this week, Rishi Sunak unveiled a fresh agreement with the EU to overcome trade barriers in Northern Ireland that he called a “decisive breakthrough”.
As part of the Windsor Framework, a “Stormont brake” would be introduced where the Northern Ireland Assembly can pause changes in EU goods law from applying in the country.
The UK government could then have a veto to halt the law applying in Northern Ireland permanently.
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But there have been questions about whether that would just delay the law taking effect.
However, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has now confirmed it would be a complete veto.
He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “It’s a veto.
“When the concern is raised, that is when the delay kicks in and when it goes through the complete process, that is when the UK government can veto.”
The EU has said the measure can only be used as a matter of last resort amid concerns the UK would try to veto less significant legislation.
But Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I think if it was going to affect Northern Ireland in a significant way, we would veto EU law.
“You can’t be using a veto trivially but I don’t think actually the Northern Ireland Assembly would be using that trivially.”
All Stormont parties are due to receive briefings from government officials in the coming week over how the brake will operate.
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‘I don’t want any deal to replace a problem with a problem’
Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said she has some concerns about the mechanism causing further issues but expressed a “cautious welcome” of the framework as a whole.
She also said it is time for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to show “leadership” and agree to restore powersharing as it examines the deal – a year after the party refused to form a government in protest over the original Brexit deal.
Ms O’Neill, who is the First Minister Designate, told Sky News: “They should be back around the executive table, taking on the matters of the day.
“And then, yes, let us work through all the details of this in the deal because I equally have some concerns, particularly around this issue of a Stormont brake and what that might look like and how it can be used, because I certainly don’t want any deal to replace a problem with a problem.
“But these are things we can do whilst also being in the executive.”
NI can participate in UK trade deals
Mr Heaton-Harris said he can guarantee Northern Ireland will be able to participate fully in future UK trade deals once the Windsor Framework is finalised.
Asked if he could guarantee that, he said: “Yes, we can and also we are now left with about 3% of what was existing EU laws are going to be in place after this gets adopted.
“That is the bare minimum required to allow Northern Ireland businesses the access they have to the European single market at this point.”
Asked if he may regret his words in the future, he added: “I am genuinely not worried about that.”
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MPs still have to vote on the deal, including the DUP, but Mr Heaton-Harris said he believes the framework means the executive will now get “up and running”.
Last week the government passed legislation allowing the Northern Ireland secretary to call an election in the country in the next year.
But Mr Heaton-Harris refused to put a timeframe on when he would call an election if Stormont is not functioning again.
“I’ve learned from previous lessons in Northern Ireland that you don’t set time frames and even if you have one in your mind, you would never give it publicly,” he said.