Huge Brexit changes released in Northern Ireland as fears of EU trade war mount

Boris Johnson has exposed Britain to a trade war by tearing up the Brexit deal his own government struck with Brussels just three years ago

Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces multiple allegations
Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces multiple allegations

Beleaguered Boris Johnson has exposed Britain to a trade war with the EU when he ripped up the Brexit deal his own government struck with Brussels nearly three years ago.

The Prime Minister today said his plans to unilaterally overhaul the Northern Ireland Protocol were “no big deal” despite millions of working families living in fear of the looming cost-of-living crisis.

He claimed that legislation put forward by the Government tonight, repealing Britain’s 2019 deal, is not internationally breaking and is “trival” despite growing Tory unease in the wake of the Partygate scandal.

Ministers will be given new powers to override elements of the protocol, opposed by a majority of Stormont politicians, the EU and US President Joe Biden.

The agreements currently require regulatory checks and customs declarations on goods moving between the UK and Northern Ireland, as the protocol was originally designed to allow Ireland’s land border to flow freely.

Under the new plan, green and red channels would be set up to eliminate additional paperwork for companies trading within the UK, but with full controls on goods entering the EU.

Northern Ireland would benefit from the same tax and spending policies as the rest of the UK, including VAT.

Most controversially, all disputes would be settled through independent arbitration rather than the European Court of Justice.

The step is justified under international law because of the “genuine exceptional situation”, according to the summary of the government’s legal position.

The legal situation argues that the step is necessary because the protocol currently does not protect the obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

It states: “The Government recognizes that necessity can be invoked only exceptionally to lawfully justify failure to comply with international obligations.

“This is a truly exceptional situation and it is only in the challenging, complex and unique circumstances of Northern Ireland that the Government has reluctantly decided to introduce legislative measures which would provide for the failure to comply with certain obligations when they come into force.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin addresses the media at the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast


PA cable/PA images)

“The Government’s position is that, given the state of emergency, such a failure to fulfill its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement and/or Protocol as a result of the proposed legislative measures would be justified under international law.

“This justification lasts as long as the underlying reasons for the state of emergency exist. According to current assessments, this situation and its causes will persist in the medium to long term.”

Sinn Fein’s Stormont boss Michelle O’Neill called the move “reckless and shameful”.

Speaking to the media today, she said: “Today’s action by Boris Johnson in Westminster is absolutely inconsiderate, it is disgraceful, it does not serve the interests of the people here.

“This contradicts an international agreement that he negotiated himself. It is a clear violation of international law.”

In Cornwall, Mr Johnson said: “We have an issue at the moment which is in Northern Ireland, the Stormont Assembly, the Government of Northern Ireland, are unable to meet because of the implications of the Protocol.

“It creates unnecessary obstacles to East-West trade. What we can do is fix that.

“It’s not a big deal, we can fix it in a way that removes those bureaucratic barriers but without also creating barriers to North-South trade on the island of Ireland.”

He warned that a trade war over changes to the protocol would be a “gross overreaction” by Brussels if the UK wanted to cut bureaucracy.

Ministers have also claimed that the protocol – opposed by the hard-line DUP – poses a “serious threat” to the Good Friday Agreement.

The DUP said the release of the bill did not guarantee the party a return to power-sharing, while a majority of members of the NI assembly signed an open letter to the prime minister saying they opposed his “reckless” proposal.

Brussels criticized the steps to dismantle the protocol with the blasting of Maros Sefcovic from the EU: “Unilateral measures damage mutual trust and are a formula for insecurity.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has accused the government of deliberately trying to “intensify tensions” over the protocol.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, meanwhile, said it was “regrettable” that Britain was about to break an international agreement.

Speaking in Co Cork on Monday, Mr Martin said the way to resolve the impasse was through substantive negotiations.

“It is very unfortunate for a country like the UK to breach an international agreement,” he said.

“I think it marks a new low because the natural expectation of democratic countries like us, Britain and all of Europe is that we honor international agreements that we enter into.”

Mr Martin said the current deal has been ratified by the UK Parliament and approved by the Prime Minister.

“I have had this discussion with him and we believe the only way to resolve issues related to the application of the Protocol is through substantive negotiations between the UK and the EU,” added Mr Martin.

“We do not accept the portrayal by the UK Government and some ministers that the EU is inflexible. That is definitely not the case and the EU has been very proactive in trying to find solutions to problems related to the application of the Protocol over the past year.”

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