Thursday, 18 August, 2022
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UK MPs to vote on bill to override N Ireland Brexit pact

LONDON: British lawmakers will on Monday get their first chance to vote on a government bill to overhaul post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland, despite EU warnings it is illegal and could spark a trade war, reports AFP.

The UK government unveiled its Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to unilaterally change trading terms for the politically fraught British province earlier this month, prompting the European Union to pledge legal action.

Brussels says overriding the deal it struck in 2019 with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government breaches international law.

But Britain insists it has been left with little choice after accusing the 27-member bloc of applying the protocol too rigidly and refusing to renegotiate the pact.

"You've got unnecessary barriers to trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland," Johnson told reporters Monday from a G7 summit in Germany.

"All we're saying is that you can get rid of those, whilst not in any way endangering the EU single market."

The House of Commons will spend the afternoon debating the draft legislation, before holding an initial vote in the evening, ahead of further scrutiny and votes.

In awkward timing, MPs will vote as Johnson is socialising at the summit with the EU's top leaders, including European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.

"The interesting thing is how little this conversation is being had... here," the British leader claimed.

On Sunday, the bloc's ambassador to Britain, Joao Vale de Almeida, said the legislation was "both illegal and unrealistic".

"It is illegal because it's a breach of international law, a breach of EU law and UK law," he told Sky News.

"We are committed to find the practical solutions on implementation, but we cannot start talking if the baseline is to say everything we have agreed before is to be put aside."

The protocol -- signed separately from a broader UK-EU trade deal -- requires checks on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from England, Scotland and Wales, in order to track products that could be potentially headed to the bloc via the Republic of Ireland.

This creates a customs border down the Irish Sea, keeping Northern Ireland in the EU's customs orbit to avoid a politically sensitive hard border between it and EU member Ireland.

But pro-British parties in Northern Ireland say it is driving a wedge between London and Belfast and are refusing to join a power-sharing government in the province until the protocol is changed.

Unionist parties and the UK government argue the protocol is threatening the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of violence over British rule in Northern Ireland.

They want checks to be removed on goods and animal and plant products travelling from Great Britain.

Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis said Sunday the protocol is "getting in the way" of re-establishing the Northern Ireland Assembly and the executive.

"We want to do this by agreement with the EU but to do that, they need to show some flexibility," he added.

But plans to unilaterally override parts of the protocol have provoked anger in European capitals, particularly Dublin, and have led to the EU threatening an all-out trade war if implemented.

"Unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust," European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic told reporters in Brussels when the UK introduced the legislation in mid-June.

In response the bloc restarted a paused legal action -- over Britain delaying checks on certain goods arriving into Northern Ireland -- and launched two new lawsuits against London.

"If the UK doesn't reply within two months, we may take them to the (European) Court of Justice," Sefcovic warned following the June 15 reprisals.

After Monday's debate, the controversial bill still has several hurdles to clear in both the Commons and upper House of Lords before it becomes law, and faces domestic legal challenges.