The British government on Monday proposed new legislation that would unilaterally change post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, despite opposition from some British lawmakers and European Union officials. who say the move violates international law.
The proposed bill seeks to remove customs controls on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. That will undo parts of the trade deal that Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed with the European Union less than two years ago.
The British Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss argued that Britain is acting within international law and blamed the EU for blocking a negotiated settlement. The European Commission said it could take legal action against the UK
The Vice President of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, said that The EU’s executive arm will consider launching new infringement procedures to “protect the EU’s single market from the risks that breaching the protocol creates for EU businesses and for the health and safety of EU citizens.”
In Ireland, the prime minister Micheal Martin said it was “very unfortunate that a country like the UK would renege on an international treaty”.
Criticism aside, Johnson told reporters that the proposed change is “relatively simple to do.”
“Frankly, it’s a relatively trivial set of adjustments in the grand scheme of things,” he told LBCRadio.
He argued that his government’s “highest and previous legal commitment” is to the 1998 Good Friday agreement that brought peace and stability to Northern Ireland.
Arrangements for Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that shares a land border with an EU nation, have proven to be the thorniest issue in Britain’s divorce from the bloc.which became final at the end of 2020. At the heart of the dispute is the Northern Ireland Protocol, which now regulates trade ties between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which it is part of the EU.
Britain and the EU agreed in their Brexit deal that the Irish land border would be kept free of customs posts and other controls. because an open border is a key pillar of the peace process that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland.
Instead, to protect the EU’s single market, there are controls on some products, such as meat and eggs, entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
But the deal has been politically damaging to Johnson because it treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. The Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party has refused to return to the region’s power-sharing government until the protocol is scrapped or substantially changed.
The bill to overturn that arrangement is expected to face opposition in Parliament, even from members of Johnson’s own conservative ranks. Critics say unilaterally changing the protocol would be illegal and would damage Britain’s standing with other countries because it is part of a treaty considered binding under international law.
In Brussels, Sefcovic said the protocol was “the only solution we could find together to protect the hard-won gains in the Northern Ireland peace process.”
He added that the EU remains open to discussions with the British government to find a solution to the dispute.
(With information from AP)
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