Saturday

28th Jan 2023

UK sets out plan to scrap post-Brexit deal over Northern Ireland

  • In Northern Ireland, which voted to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum, keeping the border with the republic of Ireland has been a priority (Photo: EUobserver)
Listen to article

Britain has set out plans to override some of the post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, making it possible to scrap parts of the agreement, while citing instability in the region and overburdening bureaucracy.

Under the draft legislation unveiled Monday (13 June), the UK changes include introducing a "green lane" for goods moving from Great Britain only to Northern Ireland.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The draft bill also allows ministers to suspend parts of the deal, it brings Northern Ireland's tax policies into line with the rest of the UK. Crucially, the legislation would also end the role of the European Court of Justice as the sole arbiter of the protocol.

The draft bill could take a year or year-and-a-half to pass in the Westminster parliament.

"It is with significant concern that we take note of today's decision by the UK government to table legislation disapplying core elements of the protocol," EU commissioner Maroš Šefčovič said in response to the bill, adding that "unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust".

British foreign minister Liz Truss told Šefčovič on Monday morning that the bloc must be willing to change post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland.

"Spoke to [EU Commission] vice-president Maroš Šefčovič to discuss the legislation we are announcing today to fix the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol and restore political stability," Truss said on Twitter.

"Our preference is a negotiated solution, but EU must be willing to change the protocol itself."

The EU has repeatedly ruled out renegotiating the protocol which was agreed to by the government of prime minister Boris Johnson, but it is flexible on implementation.

The bloc has also criticised London for taking unilateral actions, arguing it leads to instability.

Irish prime minister Micheál Martin described London's decision as a "low point", which was "very regrettable".

"Announcing the unilateral breaching of an international agreement is pretty serious stuff and can't be just put aside," Martin said.

"It goes to the heart of trust and the EU needs a trusted partner to negotiate with," he added.

Johnson has argued that the changes to the protocol are "relatively trivial" steps were needed to improve trade and simplify bureaucracy.

Šefčovič said the commission will now consider continuing the EU legal probes launched against the UK government in 2021 over previous issues.

The UK has already unilaterally decided not to implement parts of the agreement, such as waiving rules for super markets, and checks on cold meat.

The EU could trigger new legal proceedings over the UK government's failure to implement parts of the protocol, Šefčovič added.

As a countermeasure, the EU could also introduce tariffs on British goods, or even suspend the entire EU-UK trade agreement.

The EU might also make cooperation hard on different issues with the UK, such as migration, financial services, or participation in the EU's €96bn Horizon research programme.

Johnson said that any talk of a retaliatory trade war by the EU would be a "gross, gross overreaction".

Break-up fears

The protocol was agreed as part of the EU-UK withdraw agreement, signed by the UK in January 2020, in an effort to maintain peace in Northern Ireland where the 1998 Good Friday agreement ended decades of sectarian violence.

As a result of Brexit, the deal introduced customs check on the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, to keep the land border free and invisible between the province and the republic of Ireland.

The EU has proposed last October to make changes to cut red tape but the UK rejected those proposals and called for a renegotiation.

Brexit and the protocol have also heightened tensions on Northern Ireland, with unionist communities fearing ties with the UK are loosening.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which won the second-most seats in the recent Northern Ireland Assembly elections for first time after traditionally winning the most seats, argues that the protocol creates a divide and could lead to the break-up of the UK.

The DUP has been refusing to set up a new power-sharing executive with the Irish nationalist Sinn Féin, which has won the most seats and accepts the protocol.

The DUP wants the protocol to change before joining the power-sharing government.

On Monday, a majority members of the assembly have signed an open letter to Johnson saying that they reject "in the strongest possible terms" his "reckless" Northern Ireland protocol bill, the Guardian reported.

UK shows 'bad faith' in post-Brexit talks, Irish PM says

"It is perfectly reasonable to look for ways to improve the operation of the protocol, but unfortunately what we have seen are bad-faith efforts to undermine a treaty freely entered into," Irish premier Michael Martin told MEPs.

Opinion

Brexit hostility to Good Friday Agreement is damaging UK in US

Democratic Unionist MPs could affirm unequivocally they support the Good Friday Agreement, with no return of a border with physical controls on movement of people, goods or agricultural produce within the island of Ireland — but they won't.

UK says 'no choice but to act' over post-Brexit trade rules

British foreign secretary Liz Truss said the UK has "no choice but to act" on the Northern Ireland protocol governing post-Brexit trade during a call with EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič — who warned unilateral action was "simply not acceptable".

UK threatens to scrap post-Brexit trade deal

The UK rejected proposals by the EU to tweak the protocol governing trade in Northern Ireland, and has threatened to suspend the rules as loyalists lost their majority in the Northern Ireland elections.

EU takes legal action against UK over post-Brexit trade

"Let's call a spade a spade, this is illegal," EU commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said on the UK's move to introduce legislation suspending parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, as the commission launched several probes against London.

Johnson quits, leaving Brexit headaches to successor

British prime minister Boris Johnson has resigned as Conservative party leader, starting a race among Conservative MPs to replace him as prime minister but leaving a range of issues — Brexit, Northern Ireland, and Scottish independence — for his successor.

Latest News

  1. Pressure mounts on EU to coordinate visas for Russian rights-defenders
  2. Dutch set to agree to US-led chip controls to China
  3. No record of Latvian MEP's 'official' Azerbaijan trip
  4. Why the new ECHR Ukraine-Russia ruling matters
  5. Europe continues to finance Russia's war in Ukraine with lucrative fossil fuel trades
  6. Official: EU parliament's weak internal rule-making body leads to 'culture of impunity'
  7. Red tape border logjam for EU's 1.3m 'frontier workers'
  8. Greece's spy scandal must shake us out of complacency

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  2. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  3. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  4. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  2. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  3. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  5. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  6. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us