Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The UK announced on Tuesday it has prepared a law intended for resolving the ongoing deadlock with Brussels over post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland, which would effectively introduce one-sided overrides into the existing Brexit agreement.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss addressed the parliament on Tuesday, saying the legislation prepared by the government would ease the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, apply the British tax regime to the province, and provide the UK with more say into the law governing Northern Ireland.
While Truss assured lawmakers that the draft legislation would not break international law, Brussels fears it would unilaterally amend parts of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, even as the EU warned London not to take one-sided actions. European Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič, the EU executive main negotiator with Britain, stressed that the Commission would use all measures at its disposal in response to unilateral action taken by London.
The Northern Ireland protocol was introduced as part of the Brexit agreement designed to reconcile the British red lines in the negotiations with the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, which brought an end to sectarian violence on the island of Ireland.
While London insisted it wanted out of the single market and EU customs area, the Good Friday agreement stipulated that no hard border would ever be raised on the island between the Republic of Ireland and the British province. As a compromise, the protocol effectively kept Northern Ireland within the customs union, moving the border to the Irish Sea, angering protestant unionists in Northern Ireland who saw it as a step towards Irish reunification.
Truss told lawmakers on Tuesday that the British government still preferred “a negotiated solution”, stressing that they “remain open to further talks”, albeit in parallel with the legislation being introduced.
The announcement was criticised by the opposition Labour Party, with its foreign policy chief Stephen Doughy calling for “calm heads and responsible leadership” despite existing problems with the protocol. “It is deeply troubling for the foreign secretary to be proposing a bill to apparently break the treaty that the government itself signed just two years ago, that will not resolve issues in Northern Ireland in the long term, and rather it will undermine trust,” said Doughy.