A dying government at Westminster means progress on Northern Ireland affairs looks less likely this year

This is a UK  government in decline. Its authority is diminishing among its  own back benchers. This week it’s rushing through measures before the summer break. The Illegal Migrations Bill will become law but can’t be implemented while transfer to Rwanda remains illegal. Today the NI Legacy Bill will begin its final Commons stages in the teeth of opposition from most stake holders including the DUP, although with one bright spot for unionists, an amendment carried in the Lords to bar Gerry Adams from claiming compensation for wrongful arrest during internment. Implementation therefore will be difficult. Labour are pledged to repeal. A new Bill with stronger legal process may  await a new government next year.

Implementing the myriad details of the Windsor Framework remains fraught. Even the Green channel is no simple open door. It seemed GB to NI parcels were to made  liable to customs declarations, surely a disaster to any  hopes for the Framework’s easy reception. A furious row broke out in a Commons committee yesterday passing the implementation details when Tory objectors were suddenly removed. However it was all a terrible mistake. A minister Victoria Atkins rushed in to explain there was no question of parcels being affected after all.

But the issue had been hanging for weeks. Why  was it ever raised? It’s now being explained away as “a matter of timing” between Westminster and the EU-UK Specialised Committee ironing out frictions before the recast Protocol goes fully live in Ocober. In other words, Brussels has to settle it. While this is hardly news, the awkward hitch only draws attention  to where the real power lies- which to the DUP and most Tories is anathema.

What is turning out to be a  cumbersome and uncertain process hardly offers encouragement to the DUP to return to the Assembly. To them, to mix metaphors, this is an incendiary issue that seems like  the tip of an iceberg. NI business and the EU academic  experts remain ominously silent, waiting on events with  fingers tightly crossed for the Framework’s promised success. As many feared there is a complicating  bigger picture than the DUP and the Assembly . The Windsor deal  unlocked a major obstacle  to better relations  with the EU, beginning  with the UK rejoining the Horizon  programme  on high tech innovation and research. Negotiations on the NI  Protocol are now firmly  closed. The DUP will not get all of what they want.

So all in all the DUP’s return to the Assembly is looking less likely this year and may even have to await the election of a new government at Westminster in 2024.

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