The UK has unveiled legislation to roll back parts of the Brexit deal it signed with the European Union, risking a trade war with the bloc, which has threatened legal action.
The bill aims to give UK powers the ability to unilaterally rewrite the bulk of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which kept the region in the EU’s single market after Brexit, creating a customs border with Great Britain. – Continental Britain. If passed, the new law would allow ministers to tear up the regulatory framework agreed by the two sides in 2019 and replace it with new rules on customs controls, taxation and arbitration.
“This is a sensible and practical solution to the problems facing Northern Ireland,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement. “This will protect the EU’s single market and ensure there are no physical borders on the island of Ireland.”
But the move risks reopening divisions between Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration and the EU 2-and-a-half years after the UK’s departure from the bloc, as will a unified approach from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. brought them together again. EU chief Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic says the bloc will now consider legal action against the UK
“Unilateral action damages mutual trust,” Sefcovic said. The bloc’s reaction will be ‘proportionate’, including considering both the continuation of infringement proceedings that were suspended last year and the opening of new legal proceedings that ‘protect the EU’s single market from risks that breaching the protocol creates for EU businesses and for the health and safety of EU citizens,” he said.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin told reporters in Cork, Ireland the move was “a new low point” and called for “substantive negotiations” to resolve differences between the UK and EU.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the bill was “very regrettable” and the EU will react with unity.
“It is a renunciation of all the agreements we have concluded between the European Union and Great Britain,” Scholz told a press conference in Berlin. “There is no reason for this move either.”
Infringement proceedings have been put on hold pending negotiations on the operation of the protocol and, if not frozen, could lead to financial penalties against the UK. market and a halt to Gibraltar status talks, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The legislation exposes Johnson’s government to charges of breaching international law and threatens to deepen Tory divisions over Europe just a week after the prime minister passed a confidence vote that saw more than 40% of his deputies vote against him. Some in his party want him to go even further in dismantling the protocol, while others have worried about the damage done to Britain’s international reputation by breaking a deal.
The Foreign Office said in its statement that the plans are “in line with international law” and aim to protect the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland.
But Jonathan Jones, a consultant at Linklaters who resigned as the government’s most senior lawyer in 2020 over UK plans to change the protocol, told Sky News the government’s legal position was ” very thin and unconvincing”. The bill “overrides” large parts of the deal “and gives ministers the power to disable even more, almost the entire protocol,” he said.
A White House spokesman said the priority of US President Joe Biden’s administration was to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland. They acknowledged the difficulties encountered in implementing the protocol and urged the UK and EU to negotiate a solution.
The bill contains a provision for it to be replaced by a negotiated settlement if agreed with the EU. “In the meantime, the serious situation in Northern Ireland means we cannot afford to let the situation drift,” Truss said.
Here is what the bill aims to do:
– Introduce green and red trade channels, separating goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland from goods destined for the EU
— Allow businesses in Northern Ireland to choose whether they meet UK or EU standards, or both, for goods
— Extend subsidy controls and tax relief to the UK, including changes to value added tax to Northern Ireland
– Stripping the European Court of Justice of its role in settling disputes over the Brexit deal in the region, instead allowing an independent arbitration panel to oversee legal matters
Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at the University of Cambridge, said in a telephone interview that the bill “drives a trainer and horses through Northern Ireland protocol”.
“All the major aspects, in particular the provisions on the movement of goods, but also the role of the European Court of Justice,” are largely deleted, she said.
The government wants to push the bill through the UK House of Commons before Parliament recesses at the end of July, although it is unlikely to become law for at least a year due to expected opposition in the upper house, the House of Lords. Even after it comes into force, trade deals under the protocol, as agreed with the EU, will continue until ministers work out and implement a replacement regime, according to the government. .
Johnson’s administration argues the current deal threatens the peace deal because the Democratic Unionist Party refuses to participate in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive until the protocol is changed , thus blocking the formation of a new regional government.
But even before the government presented its plans, senior DUP MP Sammy Wilson told Bloomberg that the bill would not be enough to entice his party to join a new regional government. Without the participation of the DUP, a new executive cannot be formed.
Truss outlined his intention to publish the legislation in a phone call with his Irish counterpart Simon Coveney earlier on Monday. During the 12-minute call organized at the UK’s request, Coveney warned the move would be ‘deeply damaging’ to UK relations with Ireland and the EU, according to a statement from the Irish Foreign Office. .
In a sign that Johnson’s plan risks causing further political upheaval in Northern Ireland, a majority of elected officials in the region have co-signed a letter calling his approach “reckless” and which “goes against expressed wishes not only by most companies, but most people in Northern Ireland.