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UK denies breaking law with new plan for Northern Ireland

#denies #breaking #law #plan #Northern #Ireland

Britain said on Thursday it was preparing new legislation to rewrite its Brexit commitments on Northern Ireland but denied it was breaching its treaty obligations to the European Union.

The bill is expected next week, possibly Monday, and would trigger unilateral changes to the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, despite objections from Brussels and most of Belfast’s political parties.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said opposition to Britain’s tactics had “hardened” in EU capitals and asked whether it was “serious about a negotiated settlement,” Irish media reported.

The UK says the bill is needed to fix trade distortions in Northern Ireland, left in a unique position by Brexit, and bring the province’s biggest pro-British party back into the power-sharing government.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet has approved the plan and only some final drafts remain, his spokesman told reporters.

“Yes, we are convinced that the draft law is lawful under international law,” added the spokesman.

Prime Minister Michael Gove denied Johnson wanted to divert attention after narrowly surviving a no-confidence vote within his own party by mollifying Brexit hardliners in the Conservative backbenches.

“I don’t think it’s about starting a fight,” Gove said on BBC radio.

“It is absolutely right that we solve the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol,” he said.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refuses to re-enter the provincial government unless protocol is revised.

Agreed as part of Britain’s Brexit divorce deal with Brussels, the protocol recognizes Northern Ireland’s status as a fragile post-war territory sharing the UK’s new land border with the EU.

It requires controls on goods arriving from England, Scotland and Wales to prevent them from entering the EU single market via the Republic of Ireland.

This has enraged the DUP, who say Northern Ireland’s status within the UK is in jeopardy.

The UK plans to do away with most checks, arguing that the higher priority is to ensure there is no return to a hard border between Northern and Southern Ireland, under a 1998 peace agreement.

The bill, which will repeal the protocol, would allow the UK to create a ‘green channel’ for UK traders to send goods to Northern Ireland without filing a customs declaration with the EU.

The EU would have access to more real-time data from the UK on the flow of goods and only companies planning to enter the single market via Ireland would have to make declarations.

The UK has promised “robust penalties” for any companies trying to abuse the new system, but would also lift the European Court of Justice’s oversight of the protocol – another red line for Brussels.

Britain also risks angering the United States, which helped negotiate the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

But Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis has briefed the US government along with officials in Dublin and Brussels to prepare the ground for the new law, Johnson’s spokesman said.

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