UK passes legislation to change Northern Ireland’s trade regime

Boris Johnson’s government will move forward on Monday with legislation to unilaterally tear up Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade deals despite heavy criticism from Brussels.

MPs will vote for the first time on the legislation, which gives the government the power to override parts of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal with the EU, including a requirement to screen all goods from the Great -Britain to Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, Johnson hinted on Sunday that the UK could extend tariffs on imported steel which experts say could put Britain at risk of breaching World Trade Organization rules. trade.

Johnson’s decision to pursue the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill follows warnings from the European Commission that unilaterally rewriting the Brexit deal risks sparking a trade war with the EU.

João Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador to the UK, on ​​Sunday called the legislation “illegal and unrealistic”.

However, the UK government says the Northern Ireland Protocol undermines the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended three decades of conflict.

Pro-British Unionist parties say the protocol undermines their region’s status in the UK, and last year was blamed for a brief resurgence of violence.

Liz Truss, Foreign Secretary, said the Protocol Bill “will solve the problems that the Protocol has created, ensuring that goods can move freely in the UK, while avoiding a hard border and safeguarding the EU single market”.

She added that the British government still preferred a “negotiated solution” with the EU on the protocol, but had been forced to act unilaterally because the bloc refused to reopen the text of Johnson’s Brexit deal.

The government says only fundamental reform of the protocol will make it acceptable to Northern Ireland’s pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, which is calling for an end to controls on goods that remain in the region after arriving from Britain. The DUP is boycotting the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive until its demands are met.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the second reading of the Protocol Bill in the House of Commons was “welcome and sensible. It is important that this bill move forward quickly now . . . before summer vacation.

No substantive talks on the protocol between London and Brussels have taken place since February and Vale de Almeida acknowledged that the two sides were at an “impasse”.

The EU said it would only negotiate under the existing protocol, focusing on technical measures to reduce the impact of required bureaucratic checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.

“We are committed to finding practical solutions on implementation, but we can’t start talking if the baseline is to say that everything we’ve agreed before should be set aside,” Vale said. Almeida in an interview with Sky News.

The UK government wants a fundamental rewrite of sections of the protocol, including the end of checks on goods intended only for sale in Northern Ireland and the removal of the jurisdiction of the EU’s highest court.

“International agreements change all the time as circumstances change,” said a Truss ally. “We are baffled and frustrated why the EU is saying the protocol itself cannot change when it is clear that it is causing huge and unsustainable problems.”

This month, the EU relaunched legal action against the UK government, warning the bloc would use “all measures at its disposal” if the UK government pursues the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

The government expects to win the vote in the Commons despite some Tory MPs having doubts about the legality of the legislation due to its annulment of an international treaty.

However, the bill is expected to face stiff opposition in the House of Lords. A senior Tory figure predicted he would be “crossed” and “torn to shreds”.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph has reported that the government is preparing to renew existing tariffs on steel made overseas, including in China, which were due to expire this week.

Trade experts have previously said the tariffs could be vulnerable to a challenge at the WTO, and Lord Christopher Geidt, Johnson’s former ethics adviser, has also raised concerns.

Johnson told the G7 summit in Bavaria that it was reasonable for steel made in the UK to have the ‘same protections’ as that of other European economies, while acknowledging the risk of breaking EU rules. WTO with tariffs.

“But these are tough choices you have to make,” the Prime Minister added. Johnson’s spokesman said no final decision has been made by the government.

Video: Is the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill a breach of international law?

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