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Sunday, May 29, 2022

Northern Ireland still a stumbling block to smooth Brexit

by Sylvia Hui | The Associated Press

LONDON – Britain’s foreign secretary warned the EU on Thursday that Britain will have “no choice but to act” on Northern Ireland to scrap parts of the Brexit deal if the EU does not show resilience.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said during a call with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefkovic that the post-Brexit arrangement for border and customs checks in Northern Ireland has become “the biggest obstacle” to forming a new government in Belfast.

Boundary issues between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, a member of the European Union, have long caused the most difficult problems in Britain’s divorce from the European Union.

They re-emerged after the Democratic Unionist Party refused to help form a power-sharing government with the Irish nationalist party Sinn Féin, unless the post-Brexit system was significantly changed or abolished.

An open Irish border is a key part of the peace process ending decades of violence in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK to share a land border with an EU country. The EU and UK agreed to keep the Irish border free of customs checks and other checks after Brexit, which is due to last at the end of 2020.

Instead, certain goods, such as meat and eggs, are barred from entering Northern Ireland from anywhere else in the UK.

Truss’s office said Sefkovic reiterated to him on Thursday that “there was no room to expand the EU negotiating mandate or introduce new proposals to reduce the overall level of trade friction.”

“The Foreign Secretary notes this with regret and noted that the situation in Northern Ireland is a matter of internal peace and security for the United Kingdom,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

“If the EU does not show the requisite flexibility to help address those issues, we as a responsible government will have no choice but to act,” the statement said.

Tensions over trade rules, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, escalated even before the assembly elections were held in Northern Ireland last weekend.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government since February, when Paul Givhan, the leader of the DUP at the time, stepped down as first minister in protest of trade rules.

UK officials have warned repeatedly that they could unilaterally suspend the arrangement if the EU does not agree to major changes.

British media reported that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson could announce next week that his government would legislate to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland deal.

Britain’s Attorney General, Suella Braverman, issued advice saying such a move would be legal because the EU was undermining Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace deal by creating a trade barrier in the Irish Sea, the Times newspaper reported on Thursday.

Any move by Britain to unilaterally rewrite the rules would bring legal action from the EU that could escalate into a trade war.

“I am confident that only joint solutions will work. Unilateral action, effectively rejecting an international agreement such as the Protocol, is not acceptable,” Sefkovic, the EU’s chief negotiator, said after Thursday’s call.

World Nation News Desk
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