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UK threatening to unilaterally scrap part of Northern Ireland protocol, sparking fears of trade war

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)
Parliament Buildings, the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, are pictured on the Stormont Estate in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on May 13, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Britain is set to propose plans that would allow ministers to unilaterally scrap part of the Brexit deals, despite warnings from Brussels that such unilateral action would represent a breach of international law.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will address Northern Ireland’s political leaders on Tuesday to set out the government’s new plans to defy parts of the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol to break the Stormont deadlock caused by disagreements over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

In an editorial in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper, Johnson said details about the new plan would be released “in the coming days”, despite warnings of a trade war with the European Union (EU).

Johnson said the protocol had unintended consequences for his country, adding that London will need to act if the EU doesn’t change its stance.

Meanwhile, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney has warned that Britain will “force the EU to respond” if Johnson attempts to override the protocol.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner news agency on Sunday, Coveney warned of “consequences” if the British government took action in breach of its obligations under international law.

“In my view, should they choose to unilaterally break international law and set aside elements of the protocol, it will cause more problems than it will solve, which is why we’ve been so direct that it shouldn’t happen. I've asked them to engage in a professional way,” Coveney said.

“This idea they didn’t know how the protocol would work is nonsense. We all knew exactly what we were signing up for,” Coveney said, adding that the British needed to “think of the consequences of their actions.”

The EU has said it is willing to set aside around 80 percent of the checks on goods entering the North from Britain if it can be proved they are consumed there.

“The British response has been, 'it's not enough, we’re going to break international law and not respect the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland’,” Coveney said.

The development comes after the UK rejected EU proposals to resolve the standoff. Foreign secretary Liz Truss said that the bloc’s proposals failed to address the core problem, “and in some cases would take us backward.”

London and Brussels have been locked in a row for months over the NI protocol, a deal that London struck before it left the bloc and now says is unworkable.

The deal 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.

“Prices have risen, trade is being badly disrupted, and the people of Northern Ireland are subject to different laws and taxes than those over the Irish Sea, which has left them without an Executive and poses a threat to peace and stability,” Truss said in a statement last week.

“The answer cannot be more checks, paperwork, and disruption. Our preference has always been for a negotiated solution but [we] will not shy away from taking action to stabilize the situation in Northern Ireland if solutions cannot be found,” she added.

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