I am today laying before both Houses of Parliament a draft of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (Democratic Consent Process) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which will, if approved, reflect in domestic law the consent mechanism set out in the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol and the UK Government’s unilateral declaration of 17 October 2019.
The consent mechanism ensures that articles 5 to 10 of the protocol will cease to apply if Northern Ireland’s political representatives conclude they are no longer desirable. The first consent process will take place in late 2024, and will be repeated every four or eight years depending on whether consent (if given) is given on a simple majority or a cross-community basis. Embedding that recognition of consent in the protocol was intrinsic to its acceptance by this Government.
The regulations implement both a default consent procedure, which will apply if a First Minister and Deputy First Minister are in office at the time notification of the start of the process is given, and an alternative consent procedure, which will apply if a First Minister and Deputy First Minister are not in office at the time notification of the start of the process is given. The alternative procedure enables any MLA to bring forward the consent motion in the absence of a First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
The protocol was specifically designed to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement and the gains of the peace process. The principle of consent is central to it, ensuring that democratically elected local politicians make decisions for the people of Northern Ireland.