War of words is escalating as EU responds to reports UK will scrap parts of NI Protocol

Wed 11 May 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

Prime Minister Boris Johnson today (Wednesday 11 May) reconfirmed that the UK is looking to discard elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol after giving up on Brexit negotiations with the EU.

On a trip to Sweden today, asked if given the Ukraine crisis, “is it really the right time to provoke a row with Europe over the NI Protocol”, Johnson replied that the protocol “threatens the Good Friday Agreement. It needs to be sorted out”.

He added that “the most important agreement is the 25-year-old Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. That is crucial for the stability of our country, the UK and Northern Ireland.

“And that means things have got to command cross-community support. Plainly the Northern Ireland Protocol fails to do that. We need to sort it out.”

Fast action

Meanwhile officials working for foreign secretary Liz Truss are said to have drawn up draft legislation to unilaterally remove the need for checks on all goods being sent from Britain for use in Northern Ireland.

The law would ensure businesses in Northern Ireland are able to disregard EU rules and regulations and remove the power of the European Court of Justice to rule on issues relating to the region, the Times reports. Legislation could be brought in as soon as next Tuesday.

Truss preference

Truss released a statement on Tuesday night, saying that her preference had always been for a “negotiated solution” to the problems of the protocol, but that she would not shy away from “taking action to stabilise the situation in Northern Ireland if solutions cannot be found”, the BBC reports.

The post-Brexit protocol arrangement for Northern Ireland was designed to prevent the return of a hard land border with the Republic of Ireland.

It works by keeping Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods and means there are checks and customs procedures for goods imported into Northern Ireland from GB.

EU proposals

The EU made proposals in October to ease that burden, including reduced inspections of food products.

However, the UK government has said checks and controls would increase, leading to “everyday items disappearing off the shelves”.

‘Taking us backward’

Truss told Brussels that its proposed solutions would actually make the situation worse, reports the Telegraph.

 “The current EU proposals fail to properly address the real issues affecting Northern Ireland and in some cases would take us backward,” she said.

“Prices have risen, trade is being badly disrupted, and the people of Northern Ireland are subject to different laws and taxes than those over the Irish Sea, which has left them without an Executive and poses a threat to peace and stability.”

The decision by the DUP, which lost out to Sinn Fein in the recent NI elections, to abstain from  power sharing at Stormont until the protocol is dealt with, has also put pressure on the government.

EU retaliation

The Times reports that Brussels is understood to be considering retaliatory measures to be imposed if the UK reneges on the protocol. They could include tariffs on UK exports and the suspension of elements of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Boris Johnson faces obstacles to getting the plan through parliament, with senior Tories warning that he would face a rebellion. “Even if it gets through the Commons, it will be mullered in the Lords,” one former minister said.

Former prime minister Theresa May said the PM must consider “what such a move would say about the UK and its willingness to abide by treaties”.

‘Don’t touch this’

European leaders have also warned Britain against overriding the Northern Ireland Brexit deal.

Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, said that Johnson should back away from threats to abandon the agreement.

“No one should unilaterally scrap or break or in any way change the arrangement we agreed on together,” Scholz said.

Alexander De Croo, the Belgian prime minister, said: “Don’t touch this – [it’s] something we agreed on.”

Micheal Martin, the Irish prime minister, told Boris Johnson in talks that the EU had “engaged constructively” in the protocol discussions.

Biden chips in

US president Joe Biden has added his voice to the debate the Times reports, warning Johnson not to walk away unilaterally from the Northern Ireland Brexit deal and calling on the prime minister to show “leadership” and continue negotiations.

Meanwhile cabinet minister Michael Gove has been touring the media this morning supporting Liz Truss.

The Guardian reports Gove warning the EU that “no option is off the table”, including ignoring parts of the Northern Ireland protocol.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast today, he said: “We are going to negotiate with the EU in order to get the best possible outcome for the people of Northern Ireland, but no option is off the table.”

He added: “Liz Truss will be meeting Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice-president, tomorrow. They have a good relationship. They will try to make progress tomorrow.”

Speaking on LBC, Gove said he was “super cool” with the idea of legislation to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol unilaterally, the Independent reports.

Sefcovic issued a statement yesterday calling on the UK to help finalise solutions “as quickly as possible” and calling on the UK to show “determination and creativity”.

“From the very beginning, the EU has worked tirelessly to propose creative and durable solutions, showing flexibility on how the Protocol should be implemented. It has shown that solutions can be found without changing the Protocol. For instance, the EU has ensured that the same medicines continue to be available in Northern Ireland at the same time as in the rest of the UK,” he said.