UK reveals plans to ditch parts of EU Brexit deal

The UK government has published plans to get rid of parts of the post-Brexit deal it agreed with the EU in 2019.

It wants to change the Northern Ireland Protocol to make it easier for some goods to flow from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

But the EU opposes the move, saying going back on the deal breaches international law.

The protocol is the part of the Brexit deal which keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.

It prevents a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, but it means checks on some goods arriving into Northern Ireland from other parts of the UK – a situation opposed by unionists in Northern Ireland who argue it creates a trade border in the Irish Sea.

At the centre of the government’s plan to ease the impact on businesses is the concept of green lanes and red lanes for trade.

This would mean:

Goods coming from Great Britain (GB) into Northern Ireland (NI) and which are staying would use the green lane. This means there would be no checks and paperwork would be minimal.
GB goods moving through NI into Ireland or the wider European Union would use the red lane and continue to be checked at NI ports.
London also wants any trade disputes resolved by “independent arbitration” and not by the European Court of Justice, and Northern Ireland to benefit from the same tax breaks as elsewhere in the UK.

The government says there is “no other way” of safeguarding essential interests of the UK.

It argues the term “necessity” is used in international law to justify situations where “the only way a state can safeguard an essential interest” is by disapplying – or breaking – another international obligation.

It adds that action taken must not “seriously impair” essential interests of other states.

The alterations are set out in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, to be debated and voted on by Parliament.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said it was “a reasonable, practical solution to the problems facing Northern Ireland” and that the UK could “only make progress through negotiations if the EU are willing to change the protocol itself”, adding: “At the moment they aren’t.”

“We are very clear that we’re acting in line with the law,” she said.

The government said it would prefer a “negotiated solution” with the EU that avoids the need for the bill to become law.

There’s no appetite amongst EU leaders for a full-blown trade war with the UK.

They have their hands full with the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine.

So the EU didn’t want to overreact to today’s UK government legislation proposal – after all it’s not law yet – but neither did it want to underreact.

Attempting unilaterally to over-ride large parts of the protocol agreed and signed by Boris Johnson is seen as a very big deal in Brussels.

As a warning, the EU will look to re-start legal proceedings against the UK for alleged breaches of the protocol – such as failing to carry out certain checks.

At the same time, the EU’s chief negotiator has implored the UK to come back to the negotiating table.

He says the EU will soon publish new proposals to iron out practical problems thrown up by the protocol for people in Northern Ireland.

Away from the drama playing out right now, there are clear areas like customs lanes where the EU and the UK government aren’t far apart at all. But the mood music is dreadful.