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EU threatens legal action as UK seeks to scrap Northern Ireland treaty

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)
Demonstrators protest outside Hillsborough Castle, ahead of a visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland, May, 16, 2022. (Photo by AP)

The European Union (EU) has threatened legal action against the United Kingdom after London unveiled a controversial law to scrap a treaty governing the post-Brexit status of Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration on Monday proposed new legislation that would unilaterally rewrite post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland. The  new legislation seeks to unilaterally amend the Northern Ireland Protocol, which ensures that trade rules surrounding the movement of goods through the province comply with EU norms.

In a statement released late Monday,  the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic, hit out at the “damaging” move and warned that British ministers risked being taken to court.

He said the EU was considering “infringement proceedings” over various failures by the UK.

The 27-nation bloc is expected to launch legal action against the UK government on Wednesday over its decision to scrap some post-Brexit trade arrangements.

Other potential retaliatory measures included compiling a list of British goods that Brussels could hit with trade tariffs.

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.

Johnson has said the deal is “not sustainable in its current form” as it is undercutting peace in the province by setting up trade barriers with the rest of the UK. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has also blamed the EU for blocking a negotiated settlement.

In Ireland, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said it was “very regrettable for a country like the UK to renege on an international treaty.”

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. Scholz has also said there was “no reason” for the UK to make such a move.

“It’s a rejection of all the agreements we reached between the European Union and Great Britain,” Scholz said. “The European Union will react to this as one and it has the whole toolbox at its disposal.”

Brussels has also said it would not renegotiate the deal, warning Johnson against overriding it. Sefcovic, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said the bloc would not renegotiate the protocol. “Any renegotiation would simply bring further legal uncertainty for people and businesses in Northern Ireland,” he said.

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