EU, UK move closer to trade war over NI London Protocol requirements

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The UK and the EU moved closer to a trade war on Sunday after Brussels rejected London’s demands for a complete rewrite of the controversial protocol to the Brexit deal with Northern Ireland.

The European Commission has reiterated that it will not agree to end the monitoring of the protocol by the European Court of Justice, a British demand that Lord David Frost, Britain’s Brexit Minister, will repeat in a speech on Tuesday.

The protocol avoids the need for a land border on the divided island of Ireland – its removal was a key part of the 1998 Good Friday deal that ended three decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland – with checks carried out instead on goods arriving from Great Britain in Northern Ireland.

The EU’s imposition of controls on trade in goods between the UK infuriated Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, who said it undermined the region’s position in the UK.

Temperature rises further, Irish Foreign Minister Simon coveney took to Twitter to accuse the UK of establishing a new “red line” just days before the EU was ready to offer “serious” concessions.

“Are we surprised? True Q: Does UKG really want an agreed way forward or a further break in the relationship? “

Frost responded that the UK’s request to remove oversight from the ECJ was “not new,” adding: “We set out our concerns three months ago in our July 21 command document. The problem is, too few people seem to have listened, ”he tweeted. His allies said it was “a key issue”, but one added: “We don’t use the term ‘red line’.”

© Paul Faith / AFP via Getty

The committee declined to comment directly on Frost’s demands, but pointed to an October 7 speech by Maros Sefcovic, its Brexit leader, in which he ruled out renegotiating the protocol. An official added that the role of the ECJ was a “red line” for Brussels.

Sefcovic said in his speech that the ECJ’s oversight was only mentioned once during its meetings last month in Northern Ireland. “I find it hard to see how Northern Ireland would retain access to the single market without the oversight of the ECJ,” he said in a webinar.

On Wednesday, Sefcovic will publish proposals to remove many checks on goods deemed unlikely to leak from Northern Ireland to the EU’s single market via the Republic of Ireland.

But around half of customs and health checks would remain, a situation seen as intolerable by the British government and the Democratic Unionist Party, which is part of the administration of Northern Ireland.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, its leader, welcomed the EU’s willingness to negotiate but said it did not go far enough. “We are clear that there should be no internal barriers to trade within the UK and we want to see the removal of trade barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland and that is our result. For us, the border of the Irish Sea must disappear, ”he told FT.

He has threatened to remove his ministers from Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive, another key part of the Good Friday deal, as early as this month, unless the protocol is removed.

Frost wants the protocol to be governed as the last trade and cooperation agreement between the two parties, where disputes are handled collectively and ultimately through international arbitration.

However, legal experts believe Frost would run into problems in domestic courts if he attempted to use Article 16 – the protocol’s waiver mechanism – because the EU refused to end the role of the ECJ.

George Peretz, QC at Monckton Chambers, noted that the protocol specifies that Article 16 can only be used in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental hardship that may persist or trade diversion.”

If this triggered Article 16 on the ECJ, the UK would “face probable defeat in national courts,” he said on Twitter.

This could mean that the Johnson administration faces either the possibility of a court battle or the need to introduce new legislation, which could potentially face opposition from the House of Lords.

He would also face reprisals from the 27 EU member states, which accused the UK of trying to reverse a deal it signed two years ago.

“If the UK chooses the path of confrontation and triggers Article 16, the consequences will be far-reaching and felt across the UK,” warned an EU diplomat. “It is very worrying that the UK is still not doing enough to implement the deal and claims it has not experienced the consequences of a deal it wanted, negotiated, signed and ratified in the first place. Friends and allies don’t treat each other like that.

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