Boris Johnson says plan to break Brexit treaty is ‘not a big deal’

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 (PA)
(PA)

Boris Johnson has insisted a plan to break parts of the Northern IrelandBrexit deal is "not a big deal".

The prime minister was warned by Dublin this morning that the move would "deeply damage" relations between Britain and Europe if it went ahead.

But the prime minister insisted that the legislation amounted to "a relatively trivial set of adjustments" to deal with problems caused by the agreement he negotiated.

The legislation will give the UK government powers to override elements of the Northern Ireland protocol at the behest of the Northern Ireland loyalist community.

The existing arrangement was jointly agreed by Mr Johnson's Government and the EU as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to keep the Irish land border open, in line with the Good Friday Agreement.

But unionists are annoyed that the set-up requires regulatory checks and customs declarations on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland instead.

The government rejects the claim that the plan breaches international law, but has refused to release its own legal advice on the matter and is at odds with settled legal opinion.

Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney had said the plan to breach the treaty would ultimately "ratchet up" tension and breach the UK's international commitments.

A spokesman for Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said Mr Coveney told the Foreign Secretary that "publishing legislation that would breach the UK's commitments under international law, the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland Protocol is deeply damaging to relationships on these islands and between the UK and EU".

The spokesperson added that the plan marked a "particular low point in the UK's approach to Brexit, especially as Ms Truss has not engaged with negotiations with the EU in any meaningful way since February".

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Mr Johnson told Sky News: "What it does is it creates unnecessary barriers on trade east-west. What we can do is fix that - it's not a big deal."

Speaking separately on LBC Radio he added: "We have to understand there are two traditions in Northern Ireland, broadly two ways of looking at the border issues. One community at the moment feels very, very estranged from the way things are operating and very alienated.

"We have just got to fix that. It is relatively simple to do it, it's a bureaucratic change that needs to be made.

"Frankly, it's a relatively trivial set of adjustments in the grand scheme of things." He added that it would be an overreaction by Brussels to respond with sanctions.

The prime minister's legislation is expected to face opposition in both Houses of Parliament, including from some within the Tory ranks.

His move comes as the government tries to reset the news agenda in the wake of the partygate scandal and the prime minister’s own lawbreaking.

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