UK on Monday introduced a bill to change parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit trade deal, while the European Union (EU) said unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust and threatened legal action.
The UK government said in a statement that the bill will allow it to address “the practical problems the Protocol has created in Northern Ireland” in four areas: burdensome customs processes, inflexible regulation, tax and spend discrepancies, and democratic governance issues.
“These problems include disruption and diversion of trade and significant costs and bureaucracy for business,” it said. They are also undermining the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and have led to the collapse of the power-sharing arrangements at the Northern Ireland Assembly, the government said.
A ship docked at Belfast Harbour in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Britain on Feb. 1, 2020.
Signed in 1998 after three decades of conflict, the landmark Belfast Agreement established a power-sharing system of government, including an Executive and Assembly. It underpins peace in Northern Ireland, its constitutional settlement, and its institutions.
Recently, it has become more urgent that disputes over the protocol should be resolved since Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party, won elections in Northern Ireland for the devolved assembly.
Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the bill “will end the untenable situation where people in Northern Ireland are treated differently to the rest of the United Kingdom, protect the supremacy of our courts and our territorial integrity.”
Coming second in the elections, the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party said it would not sit in the assembly. The party is opposed to the protocol, saying it creates a trade border in the Irish Sea.
Photo taken on Dec. 24, 2020 shows the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.
The protocol has deepened a rift between the UK and EU. Under the protocol, Northern Ireland is part of the UK’s customs territory but is subject to the EU’s customs code, value-added tax (VAT) rules and single market rules for goods.
Despite the two sides’ agreement in October 2019, the protocol has caused divisions over how some of the rules should be implemented, particularly for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
“The UK has engaged extensively with the EU to resolve the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol over the past 18 months,” the UK government said in its statement.
“However, it has become clear the EU proposals don’t address the core problems created by the Protocol. They would be worse than the status quo, requiring more paperwork and checks than today,” it added.
In response, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said on Monday that the UK’s unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust.
“Renegotiating the Protocol is unrealistic. No workable alternative solution has been found to this delicate, long-negotiated balance,” Sefcovic said.
The European Commission said it will consider continuing the infringement procedure which was launched against the UK government in March 2021, but subsequently put on hold.
The Commission will also consider launching new infringement procedures that protect the EU Single Market from the risks that the violation of the Protocol creates for EU businesses and for the health and safety of EU citizens, according to Sefcovic.