Johnson presents today in the British Parliament the law with which he wants to break the Brexit deal
The trade war between the United Kingdom and the EU could be getting closer after Boris Johnson’s government confirmed its intentions to present this Monday in the House of Commons the bill with which it wants to change, unilaterally, the so-called Protocol for Northern Ireland, a key piece of the Brexit agreement.
After the historic divorce, the British province was given a different status from the rest of the United Kingdom in order to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, a prerequisite for sealing the peace between Catholics and Protestants in 1998. But this now requires customs controls on goods traded with the United Kingdom. According to the London version, the new bureaucratic burden is not only causing a shortage of goods but is also creating political tensions.
After the historic victory of the Sinn Fein Catholics in the last autonomous elections in May, the DUP Protestants are now refusing to form a coalition government, which both communities are bound to respect by the 1998 peace agreement. The Unionists feel betrayed by the central Executive for having left Northern Ireland more aligned with Dublin’s regulations than with those of London and are not willing to unblock the political crisis until the new customs controls are changed. And in this sense, Johnson’s Executive justifies that, in case of acting unilaterally, they would not be in breach of international Brexit law, but protecting peace in Ulster.
This is the argument offered by the Attorney General of the State, Suella Braverman, who is a member of the Cabinet and whose role is to advise the Government legally. However, despite the seriousness of the situation, the ministers did not consult the so-called “First Treasury Counsel”, the Executive’s independent lawyer who is approached with major legal challenges, as is the case, since it could lead to a trade war with the EU. According to the British press, this figure indicated that “it would be very difficult for the UK to argue that it is not in breach of international law if it goes ahead with some of the moves being considered.” The controversy, therefore, is more than served.
As if that were not enough, the processing of the bill in Westminster is going to be extremely complicated as the more Eurosceptic Conservatives have already warned that they will not support it if they consider it to be too soft and, for their part, the Lords have already advanced that they will overturn it if they consider it violates international law.
Therefore, one way or the other, Johnson could be humiliated, increasing even more the doubts about a leadership that was already extremely damaged last week with the confidence motion.
Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer said that with “good faith, statecraft and confidence at the negotiating table,” the U.K. and EU should be able to make technical changes to eliminate trade frictions caused by the protocol. But he said Johnson did not possess the skills to negotiate a deal and accused him of taking “a wrecking ball” on UK-Ireland relations, which are at an all-time high.
The demands London is now making of Brussels are not few. On the one hand, it wants two types of corridors. A green one, exempt from controls, for goods from Great Britain that remain in Northern Ireland and do not cross into the Republic of Ireland (EU territory). And a red one for all other shipments.
It also wants the quality standards imposed in Northern Ireland to be British, and not those of the EU. And it wants more tax flexibility, so that any VAT changes that apply in Great Britain would also apply to Northern Ireland. This would fully affect level-plating, competition issues and regulatory convergence.
Finally, it calls for the EU Court of Justice not to be the supervisory body for EU market rules in Northern Ireland, but for an arbitration mechanism similar to the one established in the Trade and Cooperation Treaty that London and Brussels signed to avoid a hard Brexit.
The changes would involve both sides acting in good faith, i.e., the EU would have to take London’s word for products that are supposedly not going to enter the Republic of Ireland, i.e., single market. And Johnson’s resume is not exactly reassuring.