Boris Johnson will face PMQs on Wednesday for the first time since the publication of the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill as the UK faces renewed legal action from Brussels. The Prime Minister has downplayed changes in the Bill, which has been criticised for seeking to unilaterally tear up parts of the Brexit agreement, as “not a big deal”.
He was claimed to have told his ministers on Tuesday to “de-escalate” rhetoric to prevent a trade war with Brussels, according to The Daily Telegraph. But the European Commission responded to the publication on Monday of the Bill with an announcement that it intends to re-open legal action against the UK which has been on hold since September.
Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic hinted at further measures, saying the unliteral action by the UK had undermined the trust needed for the effective operation of its post-Brexit trade deal with Brussels. On Wednesday, Mr Johnson is likely to be pressed on the Bill as he faces MPs in the House of Commons amid a blizzard of issues, including last-minute complications to the Government’s Rwanda scheme and talk of a renewed case for Scottish independence.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Tuesday there was “absolutely no reason” for the European Union to retaliate against the UK after the plans to tear up the protocol caused outrage in capitals across the bloc. Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney warned the UK Government’s move could “destabilise” the situation in Northern Ireland and was undermining the work that led to the Brexit agreement with the EU.
But Ms Truss told Times Radio: “Our solution doesn’t make the EU any worse off. We continue to protect the single market, we’re supplying the EU with data, we’ve got strong enforcement to make sure companies aren’t violating the rules. So there is absolutely no reason why the EU should react in a negative way to what we’re doing.”
The UK has argued that the measures to remove checks on goods and animal and plant products travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are necessary to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement and peace and stability. The imposition of checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in order to keep an open border with Ireland has angered unionists.
Germany’s ambassador to the UK Miguel Berger said the British Government’s decision to break the agreement was one “we deeply regret”.
Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill criticised the move as “disgraceful and utterly reckless”. Michael Martin said the legislation to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol was “anti-business and anti-industry”.
Speaking in Dublin on Tuesday, Mr Martin said: “I don’t think it’s well thought out or well thought through and certainly doesn’t match the realities on the ground in terms of experiences of those involved in various industries.”
The Government has insisted the Bill is compatible with international law under the “doctrine of necessity” which allows obligations in treaties to be set aside under “certain, very exceptional, limited conditions”.
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