UK proposals on unilateral action expected in coming days

10 June 2022

According to reports, the UK Government is in the final stages of preparing legislation aimed at breaking the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement’s Northern Ireland Protocol, specifically, and the broader post-Brexit EU-UK trading relationship. After receiving political sign-off by Prime Minister Johnson and his Cabinet on Wednesday, the Government is rumoured to publish the Bill on Monday. 

While the specific details remain to be set out, they will closely follow the proposals mooted by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss during her speech to the House of Commons on 17 May. During her statement to the House, she had argued that the Protocol, which had been negotiated by Mr. Johnson himself, had caused problems which the Government had not foreseen when it signed the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement. According to Ms. Truss, the Protocol had undermined the Good Friday Agreement, and had also led to unnecessary bureaucracy for businesses moving goods between Great Britain and Northern

Among the most execrated proposals are a new trusted trader scheme with a “green lane” for British goods destined for Northern Ireland only, but not the EU’s Single Market. Under the plan, goods arriving in Northern Ireland but destined for the EU, would go through a “red lane” with full customs checks and formalities, a plan the European Commission has rejected as “impossible to implement”.

In addition, the Bill would also introduce a “dual regulatory regime” for the Provice, meaning that British goods destined for sale only in Northern Ireland would only have to meet British standards and not those of the EU. 

While Attorney General Suella Braverman recently approved the plan claiming that action over the Protocol was “painfully, apparently necessary” and not in breach of international law, in leaked correspondence, however, a senior figure advising the Government on legal matters said that they hold the view that it cannot be “credibly” argued on legal grounds that there is currently no alternative to unilaterally dis-applying the Treaty. The source also said that it is “very difficult” for Ministers to make that case.

Speaking at the European Parliament this week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned that “unilateral action to set aside a solemn agreement would be deeply damaging.” Mr. Martin warned that the UK continuing down this path “would mark a historic low point, signalling a disregard for essential principles of laws, which are the foundation of international relations. And it would, quite literally, be to the benefit of absolutely no one.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, voiced his concern that the division in the UK Conservative Party could have a negative impact on Ireland. Mr. Coveney said that, while in general it is “unwise” for Irish politicians to comment on UK party politics, there is a real concern that divisions within the Conservative Party could impact UK-EU negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking during a visit in Dublin on Thursday, UK Labour Party leader Sir Keir  Stammer said that his party believes in abiding by international rules, saying that “of course, there are challenges with the protocol, but I think that we’ve faced much greater challenges than that in our shared history…I think with flexibility on both sides, with good faith, statecraft and trust around the negotiating table, we can deal with the remaining issues.”