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EU vows response if UK scraps Brexit rules

May 17, 2022

Brussels has said a British proposal to effectively override parts of a Brexit deal with a new law is "not acceptable." The UK has proposed a new law to drop part of the Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland trade.

A P&0 ferry arrives at the Port of Larne in County Antrim, Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Protocol effectively puts a trade border in the Irish SeaImage: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

The European Union says it will respond with all measures at its disposal if Britain pushes ahead with unilateral changes to the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland.

The UK says it wants to change the legally binding treaty that it signed less than two years ago — an apparent breach of international law.

What did Brussels say?

EU Vice President Maros Sefcovic, who is Brussels' top Brexit official, said the UK announcement "raised significant concerns."

"Unilateral actions contradicting an international agreement are not acceptable,'' said Sefcovic.

The EU would "need to respond with all measures at its disposal'' if Britain passes a law to scrap parts of the post-Brexit trade treaty, he added.

The UK has said it might suspend the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, something the EU has warned could lead to a wider trade war.

However, Sefcovic also said the EU response could explore ways to improve the situation with "flexibilities" proposed by the European Commission. "They can deliver a real difference on the ground," he said.

What is the UK position?

Earlier on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the government was planning a new law to effectively override parts of the Brexit deal.

In a statement to parliament, Truss said planned legislation would ease the movement of goods, apply Britain's tax regime in Northern Ireland and giving London more say over laws in the province.

She told lawmakers the legislation would not break international law and that London would work with Brussels to find a negotiated solution.

"Our preference is to reach a negotiated outcome with the EU,'' Truss said.

Sinn Fein hails 'new era' in N. Ireland

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

The protocol is part of the UK's Brexit deal with the EU. It lays out a system of rules which governs trade in Northern Ireland since the UK left the EU. It was devised as a means of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, allowing Northern Ireland to remain in the EU's single market.

Ireland's open border, and the rights of people on either side of it to seek whichever citizenship they prefer and to move freely between the two sides, were core components of the Good Friday peace accord.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Belfast on Monday, seeking to convince local politicians to form a government in the wake of the recent elections.

Earlier this month, Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein won the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly — the first time a party that seeks union with the Republic of Ireland has won an election there.

The Democratic Unionist Party came second but is refusing to allow the assembly to sit until the UK government scraps post-Brexit checks that are part of the Northern Ireland Protocol.


rc/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters, dpa)