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EU warns UK: ‘Don’t touch’ Northern Ireland Protocol

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The European Union and Union Jack flags are flown outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain February 9, 2022. (Reuters photo)

The deadlock between the United Kingdom and the European Union over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland is once again taking center stage, with both sides issuing stern warnings.

The two sides have been trying for months to overcome a deadlock over the Northern Ireland protocol, which sets the trading rules for the British region that London agreed before it left the EU but now says are not workable.

The agreement in effect created a customs border in the sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom to preserve the province's open land border with EU member state Ireland.

While London has hinted at the possibility of unilaterally suspending part of it unless a new deal can be reached with the EU, the bloc is looking for changes within the terms of the existing deal.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the deal is “not sustainable in its current form” as it is undercutting peace in the province by erecting trade barriers with the rest of the UK.

"We will continue to talk with the EU but we will not let that stand in the way of protecting peace and stability in Northern Ireland," according to a British briefing document published on Tuesday to accompany the government's new legislative agenda.

"We urge our partners in the EU to work with us, with new imagination and flexibility, to deliver that."

Brussels, however, said Tuesday it would not renegotiate the deal, warning Johnson against overriding it.

"The protocol, as a cornerstone of the Withdrawal Agreement, is an international agreement. Its renegotiation is not an option. The European Union is united in this position," EU negotiator Maros Sefcovic said.

Meanwhile, Alexander De Croo, the Belgian prime minister, said the EU’s message was “quite clear”. “Don’t touch this, this is something we agreed on.”

Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, also said that the British premier should back away from threats to abandon the agreement that he himself signed in 2019.

“No one should unilaterally scrap or break or in any way change the arrangement we agreed on together,” Scholz said.

Britain has previously argued it has grounds to trigger a clause in the deal allowing parts of the Brexit treaty to be abandoned - a move that could badly damage an already fragile diplomatic and economic relationship with the EU.

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