UK unveils radical rewrite of EU pact for N. Ireland

The UK government on Tuesday unveiled a plan to drastically overhaul post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland, arguing the changes are needed to end political paralysis in the divided territory.

But the European Union, defending the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol and the integrity of its vast single market, vowed reprisals if Britain pushes ahead with its unilateral plans.

The protocol was agreed as part of Britain’s Brexit divorce deal with the European Union, recognising Northern Ireland’s status as a fragile, post-conflict territory that shares the UK’s new land border with the European Union.

They claim the protocol is undermining their place within the UK, and are refusing to join a new power-sharing government in Belfast following elections this month.

“I think the higher duty of the UK government in international law is to the (1998) Good Friday Agreement and the peace process,” Johnson told reporters.

– ‘Rogue state’ –

“Unilateral actions contradicting an international agreement are not acceptable,” European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney called the UK step “damaging to trust”.

“But what we have to fix is the problems with the Northern Ireland political situation, where you can’t get the executive up and running,” he said, a day after visiting Belfast for talks with Northern Ireland’s main parties.

Its line has hardened since Sinn Fein won a historic victory in elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly two weeks ago, which entitled the party to the role of first minister in a joint regional government with the DUP. 

For her part, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Britain of acting like a “rogue state”.

Keeping the border open with neighbouring Ireland, an EU member, was mandated in the Good Friday Agreement, given the frontier was a frequent flashpoint during three decades of violence in Northern Ireland until 1998.

Under the new plan, the UK intends unilaterally to create a “green channel” for British traders to send goods to Northern Ireland without making any customs declaration to the EU.

The EU would need to trust the UK to monitor the flow, and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss vowed “robust penalties” for any companies seeking to abuse the new system. 

Britain also risks antagonising the United States, which helped broker the Good Friday Agreement.

If the bill goes ahead, British hopes for a post-Brexit trade deal with the US “will be scuttled in the process”, he added.

Originally published as UK unveils radical rewrite of EU pact for N. Ireland

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