UK Presses on With Brexit Rules Rewrite06/27 06:18
LONDON (AP) -- Britain is ramping up a feud with the European Union by
pressing on with a plan to rip up parts of the post-Brexit trade deal it signed
with the bloc.
Legislation that rewrites trade rules for Northern Ireland is scheduled to
get its first major House of Commons debate on Monday, the first step on what
could be a rocky journey through Parliament.
The legislation, if approved by lawmakers, would remove checks on goods
entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K., thereby scrapping parts of
a trade treaty that Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed before Britain left the
EU in 2020.
Johnson said he thought the plan could be approved "fairly rapidly" if
Parliament cooperates, and that the measures could become law by the end of the
"What we are trying to do is fix something that I think is very important to
our country, which is the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement,"
Johnson told reporters at the Group of Seven summit in Germany.
The British government says the rules are burdening businesses and
undermining peace in Northern Ireland. It argues the unilateral move is
justified under international law because of the "genuinely exceptional
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Sunday that the aim was to
"fix," rather than throw out, the trade agreement, known as the Northern
Johnson's opponents, however, say the move is illegal and will shred
Britain's international reputation. It is also causing concern among some of
the prime minister's fellow Conservatives, already worried about Johnson's
judgment -- and popularity -- following a series of ethics scandals and two
special election defeats.
The EU has threatened to retaliate, raising the specter of a trade war
between the two major economic partners.
The bloc's ambassador to Britain, Joao Vale de Almeida, said Britain's plan
was "illegal because it is a breach of international law, a breach of EU law,
U.K. law and international law."
"It is a treaty that we signed, ratified and even went through a general
election in this country," he told Times Radio.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. that shares a border with an
EU country, Ireland. When Britain left the European Union and its borderless
free-trade zone, the two sides agreed to keep the Irish land border free of
customs posts and other checks because an open border is a key pillar of the
peace process that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland.
Instead, to protect the EU's single market, there are checks on some goods,
such as meat and eggs, entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K.
Johnson's Conservative government claims overzealous EU implementation means
the rules are not working as expected and are causing a political crisis in
"You have got one tradition, one community, that feels that things really
aren't working in a way that they like or understand -- you've got unnecessary
barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland," Johnson said.
"All we are saying is you can get rid of those whilst not in any way
endangering the EU single market," he said.
British unionists there say the checks are fraying the bonds between
Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., seen by some unionists as a threat
to their British identity. Northern Ireland's main unionist party is blocking
the formation of a new power-sharing government in Belfast, saying it won't
take part until the Brexit trade rules are scrapped.
"I want to see the reestablishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the
Executive, and the protocol is getting in the way of that," Lewis told Sky
News. "We have got to resolve that. That's what this legislation will do.
"Ultimately, we want to do this by agreement with the EU," he added. "But to
do that, they need to show some flexibility and actually come and negotiate in
a flexible way."