LONDON: The UK government will Monday introduce legislation to unilaterally rip up post-Brexit trading rules for Northern Ireland, despite the potential for a trade war with the EU.
London says it still prefers a negotiated outcome with the European Union to reform the “Northern Ireland Protocol”, whose provisions have become anathema to pro-UK unionists in the divided territory.
But absent a deal through dialogue, the bill would take effect to override Britain’s EU withdrawal treaty – although the government insists it is not breaking international law.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Sunday that the protocol was disrupting trade and had crippled the territory’s power-sharing government, due to unionist objections.
“So it’s right that we repair that,” he said, adding that the need to protect a 1998 peace agreement in Northern Ireland had “primacy” over the protocol.
Lewis rejected threats from some in the EU that unilateral changes could trigger the suspension of the withdrawal treaty’s wider trade agreement, leading to sanctions and tariffs against Britain.
The UK can ill-afford a trade war, at a time when its people are grappling with the worst inflationary crisis in a generation.
“I think that kind of language is really unhelpful,” the minister said on Times Radio, pointing to the need for Britain and the EU to work together against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, on the EU side, patience with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tactics is wearing thin, according to Ireland’s government.
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Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein on Sunday accused Johnson of sacrificing stability in Northern Ireland for his own survival, after he narrowly won a Conservative confidence vote last week.
“It’s dishonourable stuff, by any measure extraordinary stuff,” Sinn Fein’s all-Ireland president Mary Lou McDonald said on Sky.
“Brandon Lewis is talking through his hat, and not for the first time,” she added, accusing the government of “undermining, attacking and damaging the (1998) Good Friday Agreement”.
Green channel, red line