UK plan to rip up Northern Ireland deal 'could be done by end of year'

MPs are set to vote on new legislation to give ministers powers to override parts of post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with President of the European Council Charles Michel at the G7 summit in Germany. Reuters
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signalled that his plan to effectively tear up parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol could be law by the end of the year.

The prime minister, who is attending the G7 summit in Germany alongside EU leaders, said “the interesting thing is how little this conversation is being had, certainly here” — indicating he is not expecting a major diplomatic row over the government’s plans.

MPs were set to vote on Monday evening on new legislation that would give ministers powers to override parts of the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson said the plan could be carried out “fairly rapidly”, with the proposals in law by the end of the year.

His administration 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.

“What we are trying to do is fix something that I think is very important to our country, which is the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

He said it would be “even better” if we could “get some of that flexibility we need in our conversations with Maros Sefcovic”, the European Commission vice president.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin rejected Mr Johnson’s claim that he does not see a major diplomatic row erupting over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Martin said that the British government plan to tear up parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol is a major development.

Speaking in Dublin on Monday, the Fianna Fail leader said: “That, in my view, doesn’t stack up in the sense that any unilateral decision to breach international law is a major, serious development.

“One cannot trivialise the breaching of an international agreement between the UK government and the EU.

“My concern is a trend towards unilateralism that is emanating from the UK government.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss sought to play down Tory concerns that the bill “brazenly breaks a solemn international treaty”, “trashes” the UK’s international reputation and risks a trade war with the EU.

Opening the second reading debate, Ms Truss said the UK continues to raise issues of concern with the EU and told the Commons: “We simply cannot allow this situation to drift. Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since February due specifically to the protocol, at a time of major global economic challenges.

“Therefore, it is the duty of this government to act now to enable a plan for restored local government to begin. It’s both legal and necessary.”

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is the “only solution” to resolve trade difficulties across the Irish Sea without the EU being willing to reopen negotiations, she said.

She defended legal advice underpinning the bill, telling MPs: “We set out the case extremely clearly in the legal advice and the doctrine of necessity has been used by other governments in the past where there is a severe issue and the other party is unwilling to renegotiate that treaty.”

She told MPs that “when the protocol was negotiated, it was very clear that it wasn’t set in stone”.

Updated: June 27, 2022, 5:17 PM