Monday briefing: What to expect from the government’s Northern Ireland bill | Brexit | #socialmedia


Good morning. I hope you had a better weekend than mine, which was mostly spent arranging pots and pans below the kind of leak you have nightmares about.

Still, it was probably more fun than Boris Johnson’s: one week after surviving a no-confidence vote, he is facing another bruising day in parliament as the government sets out its crucial, and highly controversial, Northern Ireland bill.

The bill is expected to set out legal changes allowing ministers to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol – but with the prospect of opposition from both wings of the prime minister’s own party and a chorus of criticism which views the plans as likely to be illegal, its publication is only the first salvo in what is likely to be a very ugly battle.

Today’s newsletter explains what you need to know to make sense of the bill when it comes out this afternoon. First, here are the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Nutrition | The government’s lead adviser on food issues has condemned what ministers have billed as a landmark national plan to combat food poverty and obesity. Henry Dimbleby said the proposals are “not a strategy” and could mean more children will go hungry.

  2. Ukraine | A former British soldier has died fighting Russian forces in the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, his family have said. Jordan Gatley had been helping Ukrainian troops defend their country against Russia.

  3. Brazil | Personal items belonging to the British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira have been found near the Amazonian river where they were last seen. The news comes as Phillips’ wife and mother-in-law said their hopes of finding him alive had gone.

  4. Transport | EasyJet has reduced its flight schedule for the rest of June in an effort to overcome the travel chaos seen in the school holidays when staff shortages meant thousands of people were hit by last-minute cancellations.

  5. Art | A Dutch woman has been reunited with a painting that had been looted from her father by the Nazis during the second world war at the age of 101. Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck said she has decided to sell the picture so her family can benefit from the proceeds.

In depth: The ‘intractable problem’ of the Northern Ireland protocol

Liz Truss arrives in Downing Street on 7 June 2022. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

What’s happening today?

The government is publishing a new bill that will show us exactly how combative it is ready to be over the Northern Ireland protocol. The bill’s publication will set out a framework allowing the government to unilaterally disregard parts of the protocol, which governs post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

At the moment, Northern Ireland is still part of the EU single market for goods, which means that it can retain an open border with the Republic of Ireland. But the protocol also creates a customs border with the rest of the UK. (For more on how it works, take a look at Rory Carroll’s explainer from May.)

The leading unionist party, the DUP, doesn’t like that, and is refusing to take up its place at Stormont. It says that it will not go back to powersharing until “legislation to get rid of the Irish Sea border is on the statute book” – but the Times (£) reports that Downing Street will demand the DUP return to government before it pushes the bill through. Johnson’s strategy appears to be to hope movement from the DUP will extract concessions from the EU and negate the need for a vote.

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To find out who wants what in Northern Ireland, check out First Edition from 16 May in your inbox, or here online.


What do we know about what the bill says?

The bill is expected to cover issues including running two concurrent regulatory regimes, letting NI businesses choose whether to follow UK or EU standards – and having separate “red” and “green” trade routes separating goods going between Britain and Northern Ireland from those intended for the Republic.

But reports on the drafting process have suggested that its contents are hugely controversial within government. “It’s got pretty fraught,” said the Guardian’s deputy political editor Rowena Mason. “Boris Johnson needs to take into account the right of his party – but he also needs to appease the One Nation Tories who think it’s a terrible idea. It’s difficult to see how you reconcile those two sides.”

Meanwhile, the foreign secretary Liz Truss, who has taken the lead on the content of the bill, “very much appears to be focused on appeasing the Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) – she had a meeting with Bill Cash [a leading ERG member] last week, and she is trying to position herself as someone who represents the right,” Rowena says. “You suspect that’s with one eye on a future leadership bid.”

In a cabinet meeting last week, Truss set out changes which have been viewed (wrongly, the government says) as a sop to the ERG. But Johnson and Michael Gove were among those critical of the rewrites.

Some reports (£) suggest that while Johnson met with Brexiteers who told him they would kill the bill unless their demands were met, he ultimately concluded that they were less likely to revolt than those on the other side of the debate, and told Truss to remove most of the changes. But the Daily Telegraph reports this morning (£) that the bill will remove the European Court of Justice’s final oversight of disputes over the protocol, a key Brexiteer demand.


How do others view it?

Many critics view the bill as unlikely to be in compliance with the law because the government has failed to justify unilaterally breaking a treaty. On Sunday, Labour and the Lib Dems said that the full legal advice on the bill should be released. When asked about that yesterday by the BBC, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis would only say that the government would be “outlining our legal position” and that the bill would be “lawful and correct”.

The EU and Ireland, meanwhile, have repeatedly said that they would be dismayed by such a bill. Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the British government “isn’t listening to anybody except themselves”. The European Commission is reported by the Telegraph to have drawn up a list of tariffs to hit British products made in “red wall” constituencies for a possible future trade war.

One Nation Tories are against the bill: when former minister Jesse Norman set out his opposition to Boris Johnson last week, he warned that abandoning the protocol was “economically very damaging, politically foolhardy, and almost certainly illegal”. And director general of business lobby group the CBI, Tony Danker, said yesterday that unilateral action would be “unhelpful”.

On the other hand, the ERG has also signalled that it is willing to play hardball to get what it wants. Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin told the House of Commons last week: “If the government brings forward a bill that does not hold out the serious prospect of the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland and the restoration of the Good Friday Agreement, I will vote against it.”


What happens next?

The publication of the bill does not tie the government into a timetable for a vote in the House of Commons. “It seems like this is more a staging post and a threat,” said Rowena. “It does seem that Johnson is still interested in finding a negotiated solution. The question is whether there’s a ‘landing zone’ for talks.”

If a vote does happen, the risk of opposition from one side of the party or the other (or both) means that it is far from certain to pass. “The rebels are emboldened and Johnson has a whiff of weakness about him now,” said Rowena.

It is unlikely Johnson would resign over a defeat, or that the 1922 Committee would view it as sufficient reason to allow another no-confidence vote sooner than the 12 months its rules stipulate. But it would give the rebels momentum.

Even if the vote passed the Commons, it could face defeat in the House of Lords. All of which leaves a swift resolution unlikely – and Northern Ireland’s future, and the DUP’s place at Stormont, up in the air.

“It’s an intractable problem,” said Rowena. “And they’re running out of options.”

What else we’ve been reading

  • Five years after Grenfell, Sirin Kale speaks to survivors. They all describe how the tragedy remains a constant presence in their lives. “I live in the shadow of Grenfell,” says Omar Alhaj Ali, who lost his brother Mohammad. “I am not inside the tower, but I am there.” Archie

  • Lucy Cavendish explores why some are opting out of using dating apps to meet new people, asking whether, after a decade of exponential growth and interest, they are falling out of favour. Nimo

  • As Emmanuel Macron’s coalition emerges level with a new leftwing alliance in early projections of the first round of the French parliamentary elections, Marion Van Renterghem writes that while Macron has promised to reinvent himself, he remains the president “we understand the least”. Archie

  • I loved this profile of Pete Doherty by Hadley Freeman. She finds him asleep on the sofa in his underpants: they talk about his upcoming memoir, sobriety and addiction and, of course, his career since the Libertines. Nimo

  • For his column this week, Tim Dowling writes hilariously about his plight as an American who, despite years of trying, cannot pronounce Torquay. Nimo

Sport

Cricket | Joe Root and Ollie Pope hit big centuries to push England towards parity with New Zealand on a thrilling third day of the second test. They were supported by a swashbuckling 46 from 33 balls by the captain, Ben Stokes.

Formula One | Max Verstappen opened up a 21-point advantage over his teammate Sergio Pérez in the Formula One world championship as Red Bull finished 1-2 in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on a disastrous day for Ferrari.

Tennis | Andy Murray struggled with a hip problem as he was beaten 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 by last year’s Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini in the final of the Stuttgart Open.

The front pages

Guardian front page 13 June 2022
Photograph: Guardian

Several front pages lead with the Northern Ireland protocol. The Guardian has “Overriding Northern Irish deal will damage UK investment, warns CBI” while the Telegraph says “European judges to be stripped of protocol powers”. The FT’s take is “Tories attack Johnson over bid to rip up Northern Ireland trade deal”.

The Times splashes with “University facing new China cash crackdown” and reports on the death of former British soldier Jordan Gatley in Ukraine. The Metro’s leads with that story, under the headline “Death of our hero”.

The Mirror covers what it calls the “Free school meals scandal” with its splash “One million kids to go hungry”. And the Mail reports migrants due to be sent to Africa are appealing the against the policy, with the headline “New Rwanda flight farce”.

Today in Focus

shot of courtroom trial on a mobile phone
Supporters of actor Johnny Depp listen as the verdict is announced his defamation lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard in the US. Photograph: Craig Hudson/AP

The spectacle of the Depp-Heard trial

The defamation trial was livestreamed and clipped into short videos for millions on social media. Columnist Moira Donegan on cameras in court and the impact of the case on those wanting to report domestic abuse.

Cartoon of the day | Nicola Jennings

Nicola Jennings’ cartoon.
Nicola Jennings’ cartoon. Illustration: Nicola Jennings/The Guardian

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

A red kite in Dumfries & Galloway.
A red kite in Dumfries & Galloway. Photograph: Kirk Norbury/Alamy

For years Britain’s birds of prey were on the brink of extinction. But now, because of the work of conservationists and charities, they’re back on the rise, and to the delight of bird watchers, they’re being broadcast live 24/7 online. Their reintroduction to Britain’s skies is good news for rural economies, too: eagle tourism has generated between £5m and £8m and created 160 jobs for the Isle of Mull alone.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s crosswords to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.





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