An attempt by the DUP to block a key part of the revised deal for Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements has been heavily defeated in the House of Lords.
Peers rejected by 227 votes to 14, majority 213, a fatal motion to regulations implementing the so-called Stormont brake, which would enable politicians in Belfast to trigger a veto over the imposition of new EU rules in the region.
It comes after the statutory instrument passed comfortably in the Commons last week despite DUP opposition and a Tory backbench rebellion that included former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, with Labour and other opposition parties backing it.
The brake mechanism was a central plank of the Windsor Framework, which is designed to deal with issues in the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The updated pact was formally signed off at a meeting in London last week, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement peace deal.
The Government said the Windsor Framework had removed the Irish Sea border, restored the free flow of goods with the mainland and stripped out hundreds of pages of EU law, while the brake provided a “powerful new ongoing democratic safeguard”.
But the DUP has refused to return to powersharing, arguing the latest agreement still leaves Northern Ireland subject to rules from Brussels, and dismissed the Stormont brake as “convoluted” and ineffective.
DUP peer Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown said: “This brake couldn’t stop a tricycle, never mind the EU juggernaut travelling down the track.”
He added: “I do not believe that my party could re-enter an assembly which would require us to work for the destruction of the union by implementing foreign laws in our own country.”
Former DUP deputy leader Lord Dodds of Duncairn said: “We did leave (the EU) as one United Kingdom.”
DUP chairman Lord Morrow said: “We joined Europe as one identity, why aren’t we leaving it as a single identity? Are our votes not important any more?”
Baroness Hoey, a Northern Ireland Brexit supporter and former Labour MP, argued politicians returning to Stormont under the revised trading pact would be like Nazi collaborators under the Vichy regime in wartime France.
The non-affiliated peer said: “There are people in Northern Ireland, leading politicians, who say, and it’s true, that Northern Ireland has now become a form of colony. The EU’s first kind of colony.
“If Stormont goes back with the present Windsor Framework, they in fact would be almost like what happened during the war with the Vichy government, where all those MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) would be collaborators with a kind of colonial government.
“Taking foreign laws from a foreign legislature, governing much of our economy in Northern Ireland and keeping us in a foreign customs code whereby GB, Great Britain, our country, where our capital is, becomes a third country, becomes our foreign country, it’s just not acceptable.”
Former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick argued the “greatest lack of democracy” in Northern Ireland was the absence of an assembly and executive and urged the DUP to return to Stormont.
She said: “Because the people of Northern Ireland are currently facing very high waiting lists for health, a crumbling education system, budgets that have not been defined, because there is no Government in place.”
Labour former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Hain said: “I do worry about the vacuum that has opened up because politics is not functioning.
“When politics doesn’t function in Northern Ireland, then darker forces move in.”
On the Stormont brake, Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine said: “The mechanism does provide a powerful new ongoing democratic safeguard and goes far beyond a one-off consent vote every four years and it does place very real obligations on the Government.”
The Tory frontbencher, who described himself as a “staunch unionist”, told peers: “We have rewritten the protocol treaty, replaced it with a legally binding new Windsor Framework that removes the sea border, restores the free flow of trade from GB to Northern Ireland, protects Northern Ireland’s position within our union through fixing practical problems on pets, parcels and medicines, and ensures UK decisions on tax and spend benefit people and businesses in Northern Ireland as they do in Great Britain.”
He added: “I fully acknowledge the Windsor document is not a perfect document. Indeed no deal ever will be. But I do believe if we seek the unobtainable we genuinely risk making the pursuit of the perfect the sworn enemy of the very good.”
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