UK rejects EU proposals to resolve trade dispute with Northern Ireland

  • Says it could take direct action on customs controls
  • Action without further talks risks a trade war with the EU
  • “We have to figure it out,” says UK Prime Minister Johnson
  • Election victory for Irish nationalists adds urgency

LONDON, May 11 (Reuters) – Britain on Wednesday rejected European Union proposals to resolve a standoff over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, saying it would not shy away from taking direct action in a move Ireland said would trigger legal action by Brussels. .

Reaching an agreement that would preserve peace in Northern Ireland and protect the EU’s single market without imposing a hard land border between the British province and EU member state Ireland, or a border within the UK, was always the greatest challenge for London as it embarked on its exit from the bloc.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has agreed to a protocol that instead created a customs border at sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, but now says the red tape required is intolerable.

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The Conservative government has been threatening to break the protocol for months, raising the risk of a trade war with Europe at a time of soaring inflation and raising concern across Europe and in Washington.

Brussels offered to ease customs checks in October, but British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said this did not address the core problem, “and in some cases it would set us back.”

“Prices have risen, trade is severely disrupted and the people of Northern Ireland are subject to different laws and taxes than those of the Irish Sea, which has left them without a (government) executive and poses a threat to peace. and stability,” he said in a statement.

Truss said the government wanted a negotiated solution, but added that “we will not hesitate to take action to stabilize the situation in Northern Ireland if solutions are not found.”

On Wednesday, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the EU would take legal action and possibly impose countermeasures if London took unilateral action. He added that the news “had gone down very badly” across the EU.

“I hope that the decision-makers in Westminster will reflect on that,” he said. “Unilateral action will make all of this worse.” read more

Johnson again said that the most important agreement was the one in 1998 that largely ended decades of sectarian violence between Irish nationalists and unionists, which is being undermined, London says, by the protocol.

“That means things have to have the support of the community. Clearly, as the Northern Ireland protocol fails to do that, we need to figure it out,” she said during a visit to Sweden on Wednesday. read more

CHANGE OF LEGISLATION?

The Times newspaper has reported that the Johnson government could legislate to do away with goods checks and tell businesses in Northern Ireland to ignore EU rules.

The move to announce domestic legislation effectively undoing the protocol could come as soon as Tuesday, a Conservative source said.

Johnson’s spokesman declined to comment on what action Britain might take to try to break the deadlock, but reiterated that no decision had yet been made. read more

“The EU has confirmed that it will never change its mandate…so we reserve the right to take further action if solutions cannot be found urgently,” he told reporters.

But not everyone in British government circles will support a legislative approach, which could also take months to pass through both the upper and lower houses of parliament.

Simon Hoare, a Conservative lawmaker who chairs the Northern Ireland parliament’s select committee, said “no honorable country should act unilaterally within a deal.”

If the House of Lords were to oppose the legislation, the government could try to use the Acts of Parliament, a rarely used device that settles disagreements between the upper and lower houses, to force it through.

Ireland, Germany and EU leaders have urged Britain not to take matters into its own hands.

But the outcome of regional elections in Northern Ireland last week added momentum and Britain says nothing must threaten the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.

Irish nationalist Sinn Fein, which accepts the protocol given the party’s aim to unify Ireland, emerged as the largest party, while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which fears losing ties with the rest of the UK, came in second. place.

The DUP has now refused to form a new power-sharing administration unless trade rules are revised.

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Additional reporting by Alistair Smout and Kylie MacLellan, and Amanda Ferguson in Belfast, edited by Lizabeth Piper, Mark Heinrich and Toby Chopra

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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