Blog: Britain braced for a trade war with Brussels over Northern Ireland – Daily Mail

Biden wades into NI row: US President tells Boris to show ‘leadership’ and back down from threat to rip up Brexit deal on Northern Ireland as Liz Truss warns the EU she could act as soon as next week as unionists block return of power-sharing

  • Boris Johnson today warned he is ready to ‘take action’ over N Ireland Protocol
  • The PM hit outs at the EU for failing to address the disruption to post-Brexit trade
  • Ministers said to be ready to unveil legislation to scrap key parts of the Protocol 
  • But Germany’s Olaf Scholz leads a backlash among EU leaders against UK plans 

By David Wilcock, Deputy Political Editor and Greg Heffer, Political Correspondent For Mailonline

Published: | Updated:

US president Joe Biden waded into Britain’s row with the EU over Northern Ireland today amid fears it could spark a trade war.

In a scathing attack, the White House  demanded Boris Johnson show ‘leadership’ by continuing negotiations with Brussels rather than tear up the Brexit deal to appease unionists.

The intervention came after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss prepared to warn her EU counterpart that Britain is prepared to take unilateral action to remove the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is at the heart of the border trade dispute.

The political situation in Ulster remains dire after republicans Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party at Stormont in last week’s assembly election. 

The Democratic Unionist Party collapsed the power-sharing executive earlier this year over the Protocol, which introduced checks on goods crossing the Irish sea.  

Unionist parties are now refusing to rejoin and get it up and running again unless major changes are made the agreement signed less than three years ago. 

Ms Truss is expected to reiterate in a call with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic on Thursday the risk to the Good Friday Agreement and warn that the situation cannot drag on. 

But a White House spokeswoman told the Times today: ’The best path forward is a pragmatic one that requires courage, co-operation and leadership.

‘We urge the parties to continue engaging in dialogue to resolve differences and bring negotiations to a successful conclusion.’ 

In a scathing attack, the White House demanded Boris Johnson show ‘leadership’ by continuing negotiations with Brussels rather than tear up the Brexit deal to appease unionists.

A White House spokeswoman told the Times today: ‘We urge the parties to continue engaging in dialogue to resolve differences and bring negotiations to a successful conclusion.’

Ms Truss is expected to reiterate in a call with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic on Thursday the risk to the Good Friday Agreement and warn that the situation cannot drag on

The sausage war spat that threatens to undo the Brexit agreement 

The row over the Northern Ireland Protocol began almost as soon as the Brexit agreement with the EU came into force.

The UK’s departure from the block required the two sides to find a square peg that would fit into a round hole: how to avoid a hard border (IE checkpoints) between Ulster and Ireland and yet introduce a viable customs border between the EU and a new external ‘third party’ state.

The protocol avoids a hard border between by effectively keeping the North inside the EU’s single market. 

But it requires checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea from Britain.

This compromise incensed unionists who felt that it ‘othered’ an integral part of the UK. 

The UK began talks seeking to alter the terms of the agreement, despite it having been signed off by the PM just months earlier. 

And it introduced a waiver on checks on food and agricultural produce to ease supply problems in supermarkets. 

After a year of further negotiations between various ministers and Brussels got nowhere, unionists took action into their own hands in February.   

DUP first minister Paul Givan resigned in February in an effort to force movement.

This action left the Executive unable to fully function, due to the way it was set up to share power under the Good Friday Agreement. While ministers remained in post, they were restricted in the actions they could take.

Since 1998, when the governance system was devised as part of Northern Ireland’s historic peace accord, the first minister has always been a unionist.

But that all changed last week, when Sinn Fein became the largest party at Stormont for the first time ever.

But the DUP has insisted that it will not return until its demands over the protocol are met. 

It means that the assembly is still non-functioning. 

Since the election ministers have begun to again talk of replacing the protocol with domestic UK legislation. 

This would be illegal under international law and could cause the whole Brexit agreement to collapse. 

The Biden administration has also taken a dim view, urging continued talks to solve the problem. 

But Mr Johnson said the Northern Ireland Protocol fails to command cross-community support in Northern Ireland and ‘we need to sort it out’.

At a press conference alongside Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson at her Harpsund country retreat, Mr Johnson said: ‘The most important agreement is the 25-year-old Belfast Good Friday agreement.

‘That is crucial for the stability of our country of the UK, of Northern Ireland.

‘And it’s got to be that means that things have got to command cross-community support.

‘Plainly the Northern Ireland protocol fails to do that and we need to sort it out.’ 

Last night he attacked the EU for failing to take ‘necessary’ steps to address disruption caused by the post-Brexit agreement.

But furious EU leaders warned that unilateral action could collapse the whole post Brexit deal, potentially widening the impact of the row beyond Northern Ireland to the whole of the UK. 

Minister Michael Gove tried to calm the situation this morning. He told broadcasters while he is ’super cool’ with threats to tear up the protocol, the UK is ‘going to negotiate with the EU in order to get the best possible outcome for the people of Northern Ireland’.

Downing Street backed Ms Truss in claiming some EU proposals are ‘a backwards step’, but declined to say whether preparations have been taken for a possible trade war with the bloc.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

‘We want nothing but good relations with our EU partners but I’m not going to get into speculation about what might happen down the line.’

He said ‘some relatively minor concessions’ from the EU in the past ‘show that where there was willing, change could be achieved’.

Asked if the Government was drawing up controversial new legislation, the spokesman said: ‘I wouldn’t get into, on any issue, the ins and outs of policy development.

‘This is something we’re looking at closely, it’s a serious issue, all options are on the table.’

There was an added complication from the US today as senior politicians warned Liz Truss not to undermine peace.

In a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Congress’s Foreign Affairs Committee said unilateral British action ‘would undermine (the) Good Friday Agreement and is in direct confrontation with wishes of majority of Northern Ireland Assembly members’.

The Sinn Fein vice-president lashed out at the DUP today, accusing leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of holding society to ransom. 

Speaking after a meeting with Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, Michelle O’Neill, who stands to become First Minister, said: ‘It is not good enough for the people here that the DUP is holding society to ransom, punishing society, preventing the establishment of a Speaker and an Executive to actually respond to the things people are worried about.’

A strong indication that unilateral action on the Protocol might soon come from Westminster was also delivered in a briefing document on the Queen’s Speech.

In the note accompanying the Government’s legislative agenda for the new parliamentary session, ministers highlighted how problems with the Protocol ‘continue to stand in the way’ of a Northern Ireland government being formed.

Speaking at a press conference last night, Mr Scholz urged the UK against going it alone in overhauling the Protocol.

‘We have found a good way for Northern Ireland and no one should unilaterally override the arrangement which we have agreed together,’ he said.

Minister Michael Gove tried to calm the situation, saying that while he is ‘super cool’ with threats to tear up the protocol, the UK is ‘going to negotiate with the EU in order to get the best possible outcome for the people of Northern Ireland’.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz led the backlash against UK plans to scrap key parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol

EU vice-president Maros Sefcovic, who will speak to Liz Truss tomorrow, also hit out growing suggestions the UK is ready to abandon those discussions

Former Prime Minister Theresa May joined those cautioning Mr Johnson against taking unilateral action on the Protocol as she spoke in the House of Commons

The Sinn Fein vice-president lashed out at the DUP today, accusing leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of holding society to ransom.

His warning was echoed by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who said: ‘Our message is quite clear: Don’t touch this.

‘If that agreement would be revoked, then I would think that the whole system will be revoked. I would not see any other solution.’

Ms Truss has held ongoing discussions with EU vice-president Maros Sefcovic in recent months over the Protocol.

He also today hit out at growing suggestions the UK is gearing up to abandon those talks and unilaterally set aside the Protocol.

In a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Congress’s Foreign Affairs Committee said unilateral British action ‘would undermine (the) Good Friday Agreement and is in direct confrontation with wishes of majority of Northern Ireland Assembly members’.

In a statement, Mr Sefcovic said: ‘Only joint solutions will work. Unilateral action by the UK would only make our work on possible solutions more difficult.’

He added: ‘With political will and genuine commitment, joint solutions to legitimate practical issues raised by people and businesses in Northern Ireland can be found within the framework of the Protocol.’

But Mr Sefcovic also reiterated the EU’s stance that renegotiating the terms of the Protocol ‘is not an option’.

In Westminster, former Prime Minister Theresa May joined those cautioning Mr Johnson against taking unilateral action on the Protocol.

Speaking in the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the House of Commons, Mrs May warned about the ‘wider sense of what such a move would say about the UK and its willingness to abide by treaties which it has signed’.

The ex-premier also lauded her own Brexit deal she reached with the EU in relation to Northern Ireland – despite this being roundly rejected by MPs before her exit from Number 10.

Boris Johnson hit out at the EU for failing to take the ‘steps necessary’ to address the disruption the post-Brexit agreement is causing in Northern Ireland

The Protocol was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit and imposed checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland

The historic result of last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections has piled the pressure on both the UK and EU to come up with a solution to their ongoing dispute.

The DUP, who have now been replaced by nationalist Sinn Fein as the largest party at Stormont, this week turned up the heat on the Protocol row.

The unionist party confirmed they won’t re-enter a powersharing administration in Northern Ireland without ‘decisive action’ on the post-Brexit trade rules.

Speaking in the Commons today, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the Protocol ‘needs to be dealt with’ and was ‘undermining political stability in Northern Ireland’.

In a phone call with Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin this morning, the Prime Minister hit out at the EU for failing to take the ‘steps necessary’ to address the disruption the post-Brexit agreement is causing in Northern Ireland. 

Downing Street said both Mr Johnson and his Irish counterpart agreed on the ‘vital importance’ of restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland.

‘The Prime Minister made clear that the situation in respect of the Northern Ireland Protocol was now very serious,’ Number 10 said in a readout of the call.

‘The balance of the Good Friday Agreement was being undermined and the recent elections had further demonstrated that the Protocol was not sustainable in its current form.

‘Despite repeated efforts by the UK Government over many months to fix the Protocol, including those sections related to the movement of goods and governance, the European Commission had not taken the steps necessary to help address the economic and political disruption on the ground.

‘The Prime Minister reiterated that the UK Government would take action to protect peace and political stability in Northern Ireland if solutions could not be found.’

The Queen’s Speech, in which the Government unveiled its new legislative agenda, also hinted at possible unilateral action from Westminster.

Ministers noted in a briefing document how the problems caused by the Protocol ‘continue to stand in the way’ of a Stormont executive being formed.

‘We will continue to talk with the EU but we will not let that stand in the way of protecting peace and stability in Northern Ireland,’ they added.

‘As any responsible government would, we will take the steps necessary to protect all dimensions of the Good Friday Agreement and meet our obligations under the ‘New Decade New Approach Deal’ to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.’

The Protocol was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit and imposed checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

But the EU’s ‘dogmatic’ and ‘rigid’ implementation of the Protocol has been blamed by British ministers for causing significant trade disruption.

The DUP and other unionists are also concerned the agreement has been detrimental to Northern Ireland’s status within the UK.

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Britain braced for a trade war with Brussels over Northern Ireland

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