Boris Johnson signals he’s ready to scrap Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade deal

Boris Johnson’s government is on a collision course with the EU after signaling plans to announce plans next week to tear up post-Brexit trade deals for Northern Ireland.

The British Prime Minister told his Irish counterpart Micheál Martin said on Tuesday that the current deal with the EU was “unsustainable in its current form”, ignoring long-standing calls from EU capitals and Brussels not to take unilateral action.

In what risks being seen as a major escalation in tensions between London and Brussels, two senior government officials have said the UK is preparing to announce legislation to roll back elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol as soon as next week “unless the EU drastically changes its approach”. .

The British threat was met with immediate warnings from Brussels and key EU capitals that the EU had no intention of renegotiating the fundamentals of the deal, which leaves Northern Ireland to follow the EU rules on trade in goods, creating a border in the Irish Sea.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said any unilateral move to unravel the protocol would have an effect beyond EU-UK relations.

“No one should unilaterally cancel, break or attack in any way the agreement we have agreed together,” he said, speaking alongside his Belgian counterpart, Alexander De Croo, who reiterated EU warnings that unilateral action by the UK could ultimately lead to a trade war between London and Brussels.

“Our message is pretty clear: don’t touch this. . . If this agreement were revoked, I would think the whole system would be revoked. I wouldn’t see any other solution,” said De Croo.

In Brussels, Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president of the European Commission, rejected Johnson’s arguments that the protocol should be changed or scrapped.

“The protocol, as the cornerstone of the [Brexit] Withdrawal Agreement, is an international agreement. Its renegotiation is not an option. The European Union is united in this position,” he said. in a report tuesday.

Pressure to resolve long-running differences over the protocol has been reignited by the refusal of the region’s pro-British Democratic Unionist party to enter a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland after regional assembly elections. from last week until protocol issues are resolved.

The DUP says the protocol’s trade deals undermine the region’s place within the UK and must be scrapped. The standoff over the formation of an executive suggests months of political vacuum, without a fully operational decentralized executive in Northern Ireland.

Political tension was heightened by the emergence of the nationalist Sinn Féin party as the largest party in the region for the first time.

During his call with the Irish taoiseach, Johnson told Irish leader Martin that the situation with the protocol was “now very serious” and undermined the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which secured peace in the region after three decades of conflict.

Prime Minister Downing Street told Martin that ‘repeated efforts’ by the UK had failed to secure the necessary moves from Brussels and that ‘the UK Government would take action to protect peace and political stability in Northern Ireland if solutions cannot be found”. .

Martin called on Johnson to focus on working with the EU on “practical issues arising from the implementation and operation of the protocol.” Ireland is co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.

“What is needed now is proper reciprocity of this effort and the good faith offered by the European Union,” he told the Dáil, Ireland’s parliament.

But Irish officials expressed a sense of deja vu, although details of the proposals remained unclear. “We’ve been here so many times in the past,” said one.

London is drafting legislation that would allow the UK to drop key sections of the protocol that cover trade and subsidy policy.

The aim of the proposed legislation, which could take several months to become law, would be to “disaggregate” goods destined for Northern Ireland and those heading for the Republic of Ireland, according to British officials.

Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin region’s first minister in waiting, wrote on Twitter after speaking with Johnson on Tuesday that “the public here cannot be a pawn in the UK Government’s chicken game with the EU”.

Senior British government officials said Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was due to speak to Šefčovič “in the next few days” about the protocol. The couple last spoke 12 days ago.

One official said Truss “was clear that talks with the EU cannot drag on and negotiations in their current form are at their wits end. The only way forward is for the EU to signal that it will significantly change its approach.

Allies of Truss said it was “stunned” by the EU’s insistence that it would not fundamentally reopen the protocol. One said: “Liz thinks this is a very real threat to political stability and the Good Friday Agreement.”

Additional reporting by Andy Bounds in Brussels

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Garland K. Long