Plans to shred parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol ‘would make headlines around the world’ that the UK is ready to break treaties, the Irish Foreign Secretary has said, as a UK minister has insisted the UK has no intention of breaking the law.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the UK had “the right to act in a sovereign manner” and “reopen or review the protocol”, but denied that such actions would breach international law.
Boris Johnson will travel to Belfast on Monday, where he will pledge not to abandon the protocol negotiated as part of the Brexit deal, and said he was only looking for reform with the “strongest cross-community support as wide as possible”.
In a bid to pressure Stormont’s parties, Johnson will urge them to ‘get back to work’ after Democratic Unionists blocked the election of a speaker in the Stormont assembly on Friday, meaning the assembly is unable to function.
Signs the government was backtracking on its protocol rhetoric emerged amid mixed messages over a trade war, with Johnson’s allies saying he had a “conciliatory” call with Ireland’s taoiseach last week. However, the Irish Times on Saturday reported Irish sources describing it as ‘the worst call he has ever had with anyone’.
On Sunday, Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Foreign Secretary, ‘criticized the saber-firing and demagogy’ of ministers over the past week, including plans flagged by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss for a project bill on Tuesday that would unilaterally nullify parts of the protocol. to lift controls on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Johnson has already been warned that dozens of Tory MPs will try to stop the bill from becoming law if it reaches the later stages – although many see it as a bargaining tactic.
Coveney said the behavior of British ministers was “creating a lot of tension in my country, your closest neighbour, and was also potentially on the verge of taking a decision which could fundamentally undermine the functioning of the institutions of the peace process in Northern Ireland. North”. , he told Sophy Ridge on Sky News on Sunday.
He said the majority of people in Northern Ireland were in favor of the protocol. “There is a minority, a large minority within trade unionism, who are not happy with the protocol,” he said.
“There are solutions we can put in place that can allay that concern and that’s what we need to focus on, as opposed to the UK government acting alone, illegally in a way that doesn’t reflect majority opinion. in the North Ireland and perhaps, more importantly, sends a message to the world that this British Government, when it suits them, will set international law aside.
He said relations between Britain and Ireland were fundamentally damaged because of ‘unnecessary information we are getting this week from very, very high levels within the UK government’.
Coveney said the EU had not threatened any specific retaliation – although several MEPs said there would be consequences, including potential suspension of the trade deal, if the UK government acted unilaterally.
“There is no way for the EU to compromise if the UK threatens to act unilaterally to adopt national legislation to set aside international obligations under an international treaty which, not don’t forget, the UK was the main designer along with the EU,” he said. .
“We can get to a landing zone if we work in partnership. But, you know, slashing and demagoguery in Westminster that raises the tension is not the right way to do it.
Kwarteng said the UK had the right to act unilaterally under Article 16 of the protocol – although sources close to Truss said invoking Article 16 is not the route the government intends to borrow.
“Political stability in Northern Ireland is our number one priority,” Kwarteng told Ridge. “We should be able to act in a sovereign way. Northern Ireland is as much a part of the UK as England, Cornwall, the South East, and we are responsible for that.
He said he did not believe there would ultimately be a trade war with the EU and any imposition of tariffs would likely take a considerable amount of time.
“I don’t think there will be a trade war. There has been a lot of talk, a lot of threats about what the EU will or won’t do. It’s up to them,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning show.
“As far as I am concerned, our first duty as the British government is to ensure political stability in Northern Ireland. If that means reviewing the protocol, we absolutely must.
“I think this talk of a trade war is irresponsible and I think it’s completely beyond us. It’s up to the EU to decide. We think it would be completely counterproductive if they went into a trade war, but it is up to them to decide.