The "final offer" that Boris Johnson has made to the EU includes a provision that the single-market (for goods) arrangement for Northern Ireland needs to be explicitly approved and then extended by Stormont (the Northern Ireland assembly) every four years.

But this seems rather weird. After all, the UK has not been explicitly taking votes in its own Parliament every 4 years to stay in the EU (and crash out by default otherwise). Nor do EEA countries (which are in the Single Market but not in the EU) do such a thing. Also, the EU Parliament has rejected this point specifically saying:

The [EU] parliament has three main concerns with the proposals: [... 3rd one:] the veto given to Stormont “makes an agreement contingent, uncertain, provisional” and subject to a unilateral decision.

The EU and other critics also raised concerns that Stormon is hardly working as it is, not having [re]convened for around 1,000 days.

Some alternatives were hinted by some EU commentators (but not through official channels) e.g. making an arrangement for Northern Ireland hold until there is a referendum (in Northern Ireland) that changes it.

So, has Johnson's government explained in more detail why the consider this arrangement they propose (with Stormont voting every 4 years) best for Northern Ireland? And why the UK government considers a putative provision for a "NIexit" referendum (for Northern Ireland to terminate their single market participation) a worse alternative? After all, Johnson's rhetoric has been centered on the legitimacy/mandate of the UK's own Brexit referendum. So why is a similar referendum-based solution not envisaged by Johnson's government for Northern Ireland with respect to their (more limited) proposed participation in the single market?

  • The EU is apparently asking for a simple majority vote in Stormont now, which the DUP rejects. bbc.com/news/uk-politics-50077760 "The fear in the DUP is that under the simple majority vote required by the EU to ensure continued membership of the new customs arrangement, the unionist community would have no veto." Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 9:31

1 Answer 1


I found a partial answer in a question in Parliament that Johnson replied to

At Westminster yesterday as Mr Johnson fielded questions about his proposed Brexit deal, former direct rule minister Sir George Howarth said making regulatory alignment contingent on "periodic renewal" would only increase the "fragility of the political situation that already exists" in the north.

"Is there not a case to consider, given particularly that the executive and assembly are not even up and running, for putting the case directly to the people of Northern Ireland in the form of a referendum, to see what they think about it?" he asked the prime minister.

But the Tory leader gave the idea a cool reception.

"I am not sure that referendums have a great history in our country recently of bringing people together," Mr Johnson responded.

"I appreciate the right honourable gentleman’s experience and the sincerity with which he approaches this subject, and he is obviously right to raise the concerns of both communities, but I think that this proposal offers a way forward for both communities and it is very important that the views of all communities are respected – that is why the principle of consent is at the heart of what we are proposing."

If there's a more in-depth explanation from the UK government, I'll accept that instead.

Interestingly, although not talking about a referendum, but of a majority vote in Stormont (instead), which is what his deal with the EU contains, Johnson said apparently in reply to Dodds:

"In all frankness I do think it a pity that it is thought necessary for one side or the other of the debate in Northern Ireland to have a veto on those arrangements," he told MPs.

He argued that the Brexit referendum had taken place on a straight majority basis, adding: "I think that principle should be applied elsewhere, I see no reason why it should not apply in Northern Ireland as well."


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