Germany, Ireland slam Britain

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Irish counterpart Simon Coveney said there was no legal or political justification for overriding the agreed trade rules in Northern Ireland…reports Asian Lite News

Germany and Ireland have condemned the government’s move towards unilaterally rewriting parts of the post-Brexit deal with the European Union.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Irish counterpart Simon Coveney said there was no legal or political justification for overriding the agreed trade rules in Northern Ireland.

Writing in British newspaper The Observer on Sunday, the ministers say Britain will be breaking an international agreement just two years old which it hadn’t engaged in with good faith.

The so-called Northern Ireland Protocol within the deal maintains an open border with EU member Ireland and free of customs posts.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration wants to remove the checks on goods such as meat and eggs arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, which protect the European Union’s single market.

Lawmakers in London passed legislation which permits the move last week.

Johnson’s critics, opponents and some members of his own party, along with European observers, have said the plan breaks international law. The government argues it is justified because of the genuinely exceptional situation.

Baerbock and Coveney said the bill wouldn’t fix the challenges around the protocol.

Instead, it will create a new set of uncertainties and make it more challenging to find durable solutions, they wrote.

The foreign ministers also argued the move jeopardises peace in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement, which helped end decades of sectarian violence and has stood since 1998.

Johnson’s government has hoped to pass the legislation, which will be debated again in Parliament on July 13 by the time its summer break begins later in the month. This could see it become law by the end of 2022.

The EU has threatened to retaliate against the UK if it goes ahead, raising the prospect of a trade war between the two major economic partners.

Separately, Irish Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told the BBC on Sunday it wasn’t appropriate or right time for a poll on Irish reunification.

Varadkar said such a referendum, permitted under the Good Friday Agreement when a majority in Northern Ireland in favour of a united Ireland is considered likely, would be divisive and defeated at the moment.

The Northern Ireland Assembly, its devolved legislature, has been paralysed for months over the implementation of the protocol, leaving it without a regional government.

A fortnight ago, the British government had tabled a new Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in Parliament, which Britain insists is aimed at fixing parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol and denies any potential breach of international law.

The bill is aimed at changing trade, tax and governance arrangements in the 2019 deal but the EU believes the unilateral move is illegal.

“If the UK doesn’t reply within two months we may take them to the court of justice,” said Maros Sefcovic, vice-president of the European Commission.

“Let there be no doubt: there is no legal nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement. This is illegal. The UK bill is extremely damaging to mutual trust and respect between the EU and the UK. It has created deep uncertainty and casts a shadow over our international cooperation,” he had said.

The Commission confirmed that Brussels will also resume legal proceedings against the UK, which it suspended in September last year, for breaching the EU withdrawal treaty agreed in 2020.

“It is disappointing that the EU has chosen to relaunch legal proceedings relating to the grace periods currently in place, which are vital to stop the problems caused by the Protocol from getting worse,” a UK government spokesperson said.

What is the protocol?

The Northern Ireland Protocol is a special arrangement that keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s Single Market for goods, avoiding a hard border between the UK territory and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member-state.

The arrangement ensured free trade could continue across the Irish land border, which is a sensitive issue because of the history of conflict in Northern Ireland.

The Bill follows 18 months of discussions with the EU for a negotiated solution to “fix” what the UK sees as “problems which are baked into the Protocol” and the government maintains it is “consistent” with international law.

But it has been heavily criticised by senior EU figures.

The European Commission has also launched two new proceedings over claims the UK has failed in its obligations to share trade data and set up border inspection posts.

These legal steps could eventually lead to the UK being fined under a dispute process overseen by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The UK government has proposed scrapping some checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and challenged the role of the ECJ in overseeing the implementation of parts of the protocol.

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