The British Irish Council (BIC), which is an institution under Strand Three of the Good Friday Agreement, brings together the Irish Government, British Government, Scottish Government, Northern Ireland Executive, Welsh Government, Isle of Man Government, Government of Jersey, and the Government of Guernsey. The Taoiseach represented the Government at the 37th BIC summit held in Guernsey on 8 July last. The next summit will be hosted by the British Government and is due to take place in Blackpool on 10-11 November next.
The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) is also an important institution under Strand Three of the Good Friday Agreement, bringing together the Irish and British Governments to promote bilateral co-operation on matters of mutual interest within the competence of both Governments. The British Government will host the next BIIGC in the early Autumn.
It has proved challenging to find a date for the next meeting of the BIIGC. I hope we can convene a meeting early in the autumn.
The BIC and BIIGC provide important forums for formal and informal discussions of matters of concern to the Government, including the Protocol and legacy legislation.
The British Government’s unilateral legislation on the Protocol is deeply disappointing and concerning. I am in ongoing contact with my counterparts in the British Government with regard to this legislation. I spoke by phone with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on 13 June. During this engagement, I made clear that this legislation, if implemented, would amount to a breach of international law. Far from fixing challenges arising from the Protocol, this legislation would create a whole new set of uncertainties and would damage relationships within Northern Ireland, between our Governments, and between the UK and the EU and its Member States.
I also discussed this issue during my recent engagements with the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara, in London on Monday 11 July, following a phone call immediately upon his appointment. I again underlined the importance of the British Government returning to working jointly with the EU including on the pragmatic solutions the EU has proposed.
We also discussed legacy issues, and I raised our serious concerns regarding the Legacy Bill. It is deeply disappointing that the British Government has chosen to unilaterally introduce legislation on legacy issues, moving away from the process agreed in the Stormont House Agreement - a process that was agreed by both Governments and the majority of the political parties in Northern Ireland. We have consistently maintained that any way forward on legacy must be based on a collective approach and a broad measure of consensus, with victims at its centre.
In the meeting of 11 July, I urged the Secretary of State against moving forward with unilateral action in this deeply sensitive space, and against taking an approach that does not have the support of victims or any political party in Northern Ireland. I will continue to remain in close contact with the Secretary of State, and our officials will also continue to engage on this issue.
In the period ahead, we will continue to urge the British Government at every available opportunity to step back from unilateral action and return to a partnership approach.