Boris Johnson’s government accused by Ireland of trying to ‘legitimise breaking the law’ in Brexit bust-up

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Boris Johnson’s government accused by Ireland of trying to ‘legitimise breaking the law’ in Brexit bust-up
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Boris Johnson’s government was accused by Ireland on Monday of trying to “legitimise breaking the law” in a Brexit bust-up over Northern Ireland’s trading arrangements.

Thomas Byrne, Dublin’s minister for European affairs, made the damning accusation after speaking to Foreign Office minister James Cleverly about the UK government’s new bill on the Northern Ireland Protocol being unveiled on Monday afternoon.

The legislation would give ministers powers to unilaterally change the pact signed by Mr Johnson in January 2020 as he rammed through the Brexit withdrawal agreement signed with the European Union.

Mr Byrne tweeted on Monday morning: “Spoke with my UK counterpart @JamesCleverly this morning. Grateful he called me.

“The Bill today seeks to legitimise the UK govt breaking the law. From a very basic legal point of view, however, no action by the UK can in any way vary its Protocol and treaty obligations.”

Mr Johnson, though, denied his Government’s moves would break international law and stressed that they aimed to ensure the “balance and the symmetry of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement” is safeguarded.

But the rift between Dublin and London was laid bare by Ireland’s foreign affairs minister accusing the UK Government of hitting a new “low point” in its approach to Brexit.

Following a 12 minute call with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Monday morning, Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney criticised the move saying it would be “deeply damaging” for relations between the UK, the EU and Ireland and would break international law.

The read out from Dublin said: “Minister Coveney said 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.

“Minister Coveney said it marks a particular low point in the UK’s approach to Brexit, especially as Secretary Truss has not engaged with negotiations with the EU in any meaningful way since February.

“Minister Coveney repeated that the Protocol is the negotiated solution, ratified by Westminster, to the hard Brexit pursued by the U.K. government.

“The UK’s unilateral approach is not in the best interest of Northern Ireland and does not have the consent or support of the majority of people or business in Northern Ireland. Far from fixing problems, this legislation will create a whole new set of uncertainties and damage relationships.”

Following an earlier call with the European Commission’s Vice President Maros Sefcovic, Ms Truss said that it was still her preference to secure a negotiated settlement with the EU.

She tweeted: “Spoke to Vice President Maros Sefcovic to discuss the legislation we are announcing today to fix the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol and restore political stability. Our preference is a negotiated solution, but EU must be willing to change the Protocol itself.”

The European Commission is set to respond with a detailed but general statement after the legislation is published later on Monday with a more detailed statement on Wednesday once EU lawyers have analysed the legislation.

The UK is pushing ahead with the legislation to fix what it says are major problems wit the Northern Ireland Protocol, which seeks to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by creating EU customs checks on some goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The legislation being published today will remove customs checks and physical checks on goods which are only going to Northern Ireland and not into the Republic of Ireland.

Instead goods from Great Britain destined to remain in Northern Ireland will go through a “green lane” with no checks while those being moved on to the EU single market in the Republic will go through a red lane and face checks.

The Bill will also look to limit the judicial oversight of the European Court of Justice and end EU control over state aid and VAT.

Ministers insist the legislation, which gives ministers the powers to unilaterally override parts of the 2019 Brexit Treaty which paved the way for the UK to leave the EU in December 2020, is lawful.

But many Conservative MPs are concerned that the Bill will damage the UK’s international standing and accused Boris Johnson of caving to opposition from the party’s hard line Brexiters.

Mr Johnson rejected claims the Bill was unlawful and insisted that resolving the Northern Ireland Protocol problems is “relatively simple”.

The Prime Minister told LBC Radio: “It’s the right way forward. What we have to respect - this is the crucial thing - is the balance and the symmetry of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

“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.”

Mr Johnson disagreed with claims that the move breaks international law, arguing that “our higher and prior legal commitment as a country is the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and to the balance and stability of that agreement”.

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