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First vote on extending EU law to NI fails to get cross-community support

The first ever motion on extending a new EU law to Northern Ireland has been defeated at the Stormont Assembly.

The DUP’s Jonathan Buckley said his party voted against introducing a law which he insisted would create a “new regulatory border within the United Kingdom”.

However, Sinn Fein described the debate brought by the unionist party as a “sham fight” and said the Assembly should be concentrating on bringing new investors to Northern Ireland.

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DUP MLA for Upper Bann Jonathan Buckley said the vote was a significant moment for the NI Assembly (Liam McBurney/PA)

The DUP brought the applicability motion to the Assembly to vote on the protection of geographical indications for craft and industrial products.

Under the rules of the Windsor Framework, a deal agreed to allay unionist concerns over post-Brexit trading arrangements, some EU laws still apply in Northern Ireland.

The framework contains mechanisms by which the Stormont Assembly can consent to new or amended regulations.

One of these is the applicability motion. Under this arrangement, the UK will not automatically agree to new EU laws being applied in Northern Ireland unless the Assembly passes the motion, with cross-community consent.

The motion debated on Tuesday proposed that a regulation legally defining and protecting certain products which are tied to a geographical area should be applied to Northern Ireland.

The motion fell after failing to secure cross-community consent when unionists voted against it.

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It now falls on the UK Government to decide whether the new law should be introduced in Northern Ireland.

Introducing the motion, Mr Buckley said: “This is the first time the Northern Ireland Assembly will vote on whether a new EU law should apply in Northern Ireland.

“That in itself is a significant moment.”

Explaining that his party would be voting against its own motion, Mr Buckley added: “It is clear to the Democratic Unionist Party that this new EU law would create a new regulatory border within the United Kingdom.”

He added: “We are not willing to contemplate a situation in which political forces, whether it be in Dublin or Brussels, can use the silence of the Assembly on this, or indeed any other piece of EU law, to exert pressure on the government in Westminster to abandon the principle of cross-community consensus.”

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Philip McGuigan described the debate as a ‘sham fight’ (Liam McBurney/PA)

Responding on behalf of Sinn Fein, Philip McGuigan pointed out that last week a number of Stormont ministers were in the US promoting Northern Ireland.

He added: “What we should be doing today is building on the success of that trip, talking up our potential and giving our young people hope.

“Instead, we have this motion. In effect a sham fight which only serves the purpose of undermining the good work of last week and which could sow confusion to potential investors to the north.

“Dual market access is the key selling point to attract potential investment to the north.”

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Sorcha Eastwood said the Assembly was debating internal DUP wranglings (Liam McBurney/PA)

Alliance Party MLA Sorcha Eastwood said the Assembly was debating “internal DUP wranglings”.

She added: “This is going to be a compressed mandate. We already have short enough time as it is, I don’t want to be spending the next two and half to three years relitigating Brexit.”

But Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said his party’s MLA would be voting against the motion because the new EU law had not been given proper scrutiny.

He added: “What are the long-term implications of this EU regulation? We don’t know because there’s been no scrutiny.”

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The SDLP’s Matthew O’Toole (Liam McBurney/PA)

The SDLP’s Matthew O’Toole said his party would urge the UK-EU joint committee, the body that oversees the working of the Windsor Framework, to allow the law to apply to Northern Ireland.

He said: “This motion today was not brought in good faith, it was a controlled explosion of an EU regulation without a thought for those who might be negatively impacted as a result of the DUP’s political games.

“The British Government themselves recognise that this motion would have little impact on trade.”