UK lays out plans for new legislation to tackle post-Brexit Irish protocol

PTI, May 18, 2022, 8:04 AM IST

Britain's foreign secretary Liz Truss (Image: JESSICA TAYLOR/UK PARLIAMENT/AFP)

London: The British government on Tuesday laid out plans to table new legislation that would allow changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, the deal signed with the European Union (EU) to define post-Brexit trade arrangements on the island of Ireland.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told the House of Commons that the legislation was required to re-establish the power-sharing executive in the devolved region of Northern Ireland and preserve the Belfast Good Friday Agreement that underpins the Irish peace process.

The Protocol was agreed as part of Brexit negotiations to prevent the return of a hard border with the EU country Republic of Ireland after the UK formally left the common economic zone in 2019.

“Our preference is to reach a negotiated outcome with the EU. We have worked tirelessly to that end and will continue to do so,” Truss told MPs.

“However, to respond to the very grave and serious situation in Northern Ireland we are clear that there is a necessity to act to ensure the institutions can be restored as soon as possible. The government is clear that proceeding with the Bill is consistent with our obligations in international law – and in support of our prior obligations in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” she said.

“This is not about scrapping the protocol. Our aim is to deliver on the protocol’s objectives,” she insisted.

There has been an ongoing row over the Protocol’s impact on trade, which has created a block on forming a devolved government in Northern Ireland after recent elections.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is a special arrangement that keeps Northern Ireland aligned with the EU single market for goods. The arrangement was intended to ensure free trade could continue across the Irish land border, a sensitive issue because of the history of conflict in the region.

But some new checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland have been criticized by politicians since their introduction in 2021. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to join Northern Ireland’s power-sharing administration until their objections to the Protocol are dealt with.

Truss said the UK has proposed what it believes to be a “comprehensive and reasonable” solution to deliver on the objectives of the protocol.

“This includes a trusted trader scheme to provide the EU with real-time commercial data, giving them confidence that goods intended for Northern Ireland are not entering the EU Single Market. We are already sharing over 1 million rows of goods movement data with the EU every week,” the minister said.

“The challenge is that this solution requires a change in the Protocol itself, as its current drafting prevents it from being implemented, but the EU’s mandate does not allow the Protocol to be changed. This is why their current proposals are not able to address the fundamental concerns,” she added.

But the opposition Labour Party said the government should abide by the deal signed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and work with the EU “to find practical solutions to these problems” rather than altering the deal unilaterally. Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, Simon Coveney, said the unilateral action from the UK was “damaging to trust”.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, who has been invited to the UK for further talks, said the plan for the legislation was “not acceptable” and that the EU would respond with all measures at its disposal.
Johnson later insisted the changes were only “getting rid of some relatively minor barriers to trade” and that he did not think a trade war was likely to be triggered as a result.

The new bill planned by the UK will propose a “green channel” to free goods moving and staying within the UK from unnecessary red tape designed to respect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK. At the same time, the government argues it would ensure that goods destined for the EU “undergo the full checks and controls applied under EU law” underpinned by data-sharing arrangements.

By Aditi Khanna

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