‘Bureaucratic simplification’: Britain defies EU with new Northern Ireland law

  • The UK will introduce legislation on Monday
  • The move risks sparking a trade war with the European Union
  • EU says unilateral action would violate international law

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will make plans on Monday to scrap some post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, changes that would inflame tensions with the European Union, but Prime Minister Boris described them as a “bureaucratic simplification”. Johnson.

Britain had been threatening for months to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol, an agreement for the British-administered region struck by Johnson’s government in order to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union and a broader trade deal between Brussels and London.

As part of the agreement, Northern Ireland effectively remained in the EU’s single market for goods to maintain an open border with EU member Ireland that was central to the 1998 peace agreement.

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But that required customs checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland, which pro-British communities in Northern Ireland say is undermining their standing in the UK.

Johnson was keen to play down the impact of the new legislation, which his Secretary of State Liz Truss will introduce to Parliament later on Monday. He said any talk of a retaliatory trade war would be a “grossly overreaction”.

“It’s a bureaucratic change that has to be made. Frankly, it’s a relatively trivial set of adjustments,” Johnson told LBC Radio.

“All we’re trying to do is some bureaucratic simplification between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

Truss urged European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic to allow changes to the protocol, reiterating London’s position that it wanted a “negotiated solution”. Read more

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The legislation, like Brexit, has divided legal and political opinion in Britain, with proponents of a UK divorce saying it does not go far enough, and critics saying it is undermining London by challenging an international agreement.

Ireland warned the plan would be “extremely harmful” and a “low point” in London’s approach to Brexit. Sefcovic said unilateral action would damage trust. Read more

simmering tensions

Tensions over the protocol have simmered for months between London and Brussels, with British ministers accusing the European Union of imposing rules that stymied goods in red tape and threatened political stability in Northern Ireland.

Critics of the London plan, including representatives of the province’s dairy, manufacturing and logistics industries, say its unilateral actions will hurt business.

Brussels believes any unilateral change would violate international law and could respond with legal action and tariffs – a risk at a time when British inflation is expected to reach 10% and the economy is contracting. Read more

He is expected to propose a “green channel” to transport goods from Britain to Northern Ireland, scrap rules preventing the province from benefiting from tax aid and end the role of the European Court of Justice as the sole arbiter.

The plan will be a test of Johnson’s authority after four out of 10 lawmakers opposed him in a confidence vote last week.

It is also likely to cause concern in Washington. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there would be no trade deal between the US and Britain if London scrapped the protocol.

Additional reporting by Paul Sandell, Andrew McCaskill and Kylie McClellan. Editing by Louise Heavens, Mark Potter and Ed Osmond

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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