Boris Johnson and Brussels were on a collision course tonight when legislation was published to repeal the Brexit rules in Northern Ireland.

This evening’s Parliamentary presentation included a new Bill that aims to remove key elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol. It includes a free ‘green channel” for goods coming from Britain, and removing control from the EU Court.

The bill would make sure that the VAT changes made by Westminster are applied to the province. It also allows state subsidies to be granted to the province. Ministers have broad powers to annul more terms of divorce later, if necessary.

Arguments by the Government are that this move is not in violation of international law. There is an established doctrine of necessity for amending treaties when they cause serious harm.

Liz Truss, Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, stated that she was presenting ‘practical solutions to the Good Friday Agreement’ and not ‘picking fights with the EU.

Asides claimed that Brussels has refused to amend the mandat for Maros Selevic, vice-president at the European Commission, meaning there is no chance of breaking this deadlock. 

Ms Truss stressed that the UK was open to more talks with Brussels but also highlighted the fact that the EU has so far “refused” to amend the Protocol.

Brussels immediately hit back following the publication of the Bill, with the EU warning it would now consider resuming legal action against the UK.

This was halted in September 2013 while negotiations were ongoing over the Protocol.

Sefcovic raised further legal actions and the possibility of a larger trade war with Britain.

He maintained that the Brexit Divorce Agreement, including Northern Ireland arrangements, was an ‘precondition’ to the creation of the EU-UK Post-Brexit Trading Relationship.

According to the Brussels official, the EU will not be renegotiating the Protocol.

Tonight, in addition to the Bill, the Government also released a legal declaration outlining the reasons the action was not illegal under international law and a document of 10 pages detailing the “problems” and “solutions” for the Protocol row.

The Prime Minister earlier risked inflaming the spat by suggesting the Protocol overhaul is ‘relatively trivial’.

Johnson stated that it would be an “overreaction” for Brussels to continue with threats of trade repudiations.

It will likely take some time for the legislation to be published.

The House of Commons will vote before summer but the House of Lords is likely to resist more strongly. 

If the Government becomes completely block by peers, it must invoke the Parliament Act to assert MPs’ supremacy. This is only possible after one year. 

Tonight’s other developments: 

  • Ministers are now in a bind as the ERG Group of Tory MPs has said that it would not approve the plans quickly. This was even before the legislative text had been released. Instead the Eurosceptics will convene a ‘Star Chamber’ of politician lawyers to scrutinise the proposals line-by-line; 
  • Majority of Stormont Assembly’s MLAs signed a letter to PM in which they expressed their disapproval at the legislation. 
  • Along with the law, the Government has published a “solutions” document that outlines how the government believes it can resolve the impasse. 
Liz Truss

Maros Sefcovic

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (left), published the Bill today, despite threats made by Maros Sefcovic (right).  

There have been warnings that the Protocol is disrupting the careful peace balance in Northern Ireland

Warnings have been raised that the Protocol could disrupt the delicate peace process in Northern Ireland.

The PM (pictured on a visit to Cornwall today) played down the impact of the Bill -  presented to Parliament this afternoon - suggesting the changes to the Protocol were 'relatively trivial'

The PM (pictured on a visit to Cornwall today) played down the impact of the Bill –  presented to Parliament this afternoon – suggesting the changes to the Protocol were ‘relatively trivial’

In a call this morning, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney warned Ms Truss that introducing a Bill to unilaterally amend the Northern Ireland Protocol would breach international law and 'deeply damage' relationships

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, warned Ms Truss this morning that the introduction of a Bill unilaterally changing the Northern Ireland Protocol would violate international law and cause ‘deeply damaging’ relationships.

The Bill, presented to Parliament tonight, aims to sweep away key parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, including a check-free 'green channel' for goods from mainland Britain and stripping control from the EU court

Tonight, the Bill was presented to Parliament. It aims at removing key components of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Government set out the Bill's main changes to the Protocol in a 10-page 'problems and solutions' document

The Government set out the Bill’s main changes to the Protocol in a 10-page ‘problems and solutions’ document

What the Northern Ireland row might do to Brexit? 

Nearly as soon as the EU’s Brexit Agreement came into force, the Northern Ireland Protocol dispute began.

The two sides had to find a way of avoiding a hard border while maintaining the integrity of the UK, and avoid undermining the integrity of the EU customs union and single market.

This Protocol keeps Ulster in the EU single market, avoiding a hard border. 

Brussels insists that goods entering the Irish Sea must be checked from Britain.

Unionists oppose the idea in strenuous fashion, calling it an ‘others part’ of the UK. 

Despite the fact that the agreement was approved by the PM only months prior, talks began in the UK to modify the terms.

Because of a number of delays caused by each camp, the Protocol’s toughest parts never came into effect.

Last March, the UK unilaterally expanded the agrifood exemptions. This prompted the EU to initiate breach proceedings.

Experts believe there’s a landing spot, but the political tensions made it difficult to make a deal.

The UK threatens to activate Article 16 under the Treaty. Article 16 can be used to suspend provisions for major social unrest.

A command paper suggested that legislation be used instead to provide a permanent solution.

UK claims that Maros Sefcovic’s negotiating mandate is the root of the problems. It does not give enough room for a solution.

Now, the Bill has been published. It outlines the UK’s views on the possible arrangements.

However, it may take time before the law is passed. It won’t be in force right away even though it appears on the statutes.

This gives the government more time to negotiate an agreement and more leverage.

However, the legislation may make things more complicated as British regulations are now written in black-and-white. There is potentially less room to compromise. 

Biden has also expressed a negative view of the situation and called for more talks to fix it. 

The chance to restore Northern Ireland’s power sharing is one carrot.  

DUP first minister Paul Givan resigned in February in an effort to force movement.

The Executive was unable to operate due to its arrangement to share power in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. Ministers were still in office, but they had limited options regarding the actions that they could take.

The Unionist has been the first minister since 1998 when the Northern Ireland peace agreement created the governance system.

All that changed when Sinn Fein was the largest party in Stormont last month.

The DUP insists that they will not be returning until their demands regarding the Protocol have been met. 

DUP was made aware by the ministers of the fact that no new legislation would be implemented until they agreed to resume powersharing. 

Published alongside the Bill tonight was a document that outlined the Government’s legal position regarding the Protocol row. It highlighted how the “doctrine of necessity” provides an international basis to support the non-performance international obligations in certain limited and exceptional circumstances.

It stated that the term “necessity”, as used in international legal law, is used by States to justify the non-performance or a continuation of an international obligation.

According to the Government, the UK’s ‘essential interest’ was the “maintenance and stability of Northern Ireland” social and political conditions.

The PM’s spokesman said: ‘We believe the threshold has been met by the strain the arrangements under the Protocol are placing on institutions in Northern Ireland – and, more generally, on socio-political conditions – has reached the point where we have no other way of safeguarding the essential interests at stake than through the adoption of this legislative approach.’ 

According to sources, the Bill is an “insurance mechanism”, in which the EU cannot change its mandate for negotiating.

Labour accused the government of law-breaking and some Tory MPs circulated a warning note warning that the plans would be very damaging for the party’s reputation.

Former No10 advisor advised Conservative critics not to speak out today. He said that the EU was looking for an excuse to ‘just sit still’ and once more hope to negotiate with another PM. 

Nikki da Costa declared, “It is impossible rebel on the Bill without playing into it.” 

The influential European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers (ERG) withheld their immediate approval.

Instead, Eurosceptic MPs will call their Star Chamber of lawyer politician politicians, which is headed by Sir Bill Cash. This chamber will scrutinise each proposal line-by-line. 

ERG Chairman Mark Francois stated to the Telegraph that the Star Chamber would examine the new Bill line-by-line in order to make sure it’s not only legal sound, but also fully restores sovereignty over UK law in Northern Ireland as an integral part the United Kingdom. 

Brandon Lewis from Northern Ireland has stated to the DUP that the legislation won’t be activated unless Stormont agrees to power-sharing. 

In its protest against the Protocol, DUP has prevented the establishment of a power-sharing government after last month’s Northern Ireland Elections.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of DUP, gave tonight a cautiously positive welcome to Bill at Westminster.

He stated, “We will naturally read that Bill with great interest.”

“But, I think that we now see the type of action required to start the process of eliminating trade barriers within the UK and to restore Northern Ireland’s position within the UK’s internal market.”

However, Sir Jeffrey said he wasn’t under pressure to resume power-sharing with Sinn Fein at Stormont.

‘Publishing the Bill doesn’t deliver anything in and of itself,’ he added.

The Bill is progressing in Parliament is what we desire now.

“As the Bill advances, of course we will then consider what this means for devolution to Northern Ireland.”

Johnson, today’s president, defended the Government’s actions as “the best way forward”.

He told LBC: ‘What we have to respect – this is the crucial thing – is the balance and the symmetry of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

“We must understand that there are two traditions within Northern Ireland. There is essentially two different ways to look at border issues. At the moment, one community feels extremely alienated from how things work and is feeling very disillusioned.

“We just have to solve that. This is a relatively easy task, but it requires a change in bureaucracy.

“Frankly, they are a small number of adjustments that make a big difference in the scheme of things.

Johnson disagreed that claims of international law violations were made. He argued that “our highest and prior legal obligation as a nation is the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and to the stability and balance thereof.”

Mr Johnson said a trade war would be a ‘gross overreaction’ by Brussels.

He said, “All that we want to do is make things simpler, so as to get rid of the trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

The PM stated that it would be absurd to respond to trade restrictions when all we want to do is to have bureaucratic simplifications among Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader, accused Johnson of being ‘absolutely reckless’ in an ‘appalling’ act that does not’serve the interests’ people of Northern Ireland.

‘Boris Johnson’s action is illegal, he is in clear breach of international law, regardless of the detail,’ she added.

‘He himself signed up to an agreement, he signed on the dotted line and he’s now legislating to breach that international agreement.’

Ms O’Neill said that the PM caused more instability and unrest in Northern Ireland. 

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill accused the PM of 'absolutely reckless' and 'disgraceful' action

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson gave a cautious welcome to the legislation

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader, accused PM of being ‘absolutely reckless’ as well as ‘disgraceful’. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader, welcomed the legislation cautiously

The Foreign Secretary held a call with Mr Sefcovic this morning, in which she insisted the EU 'must be willing to change the Protocol itself'

This morning’s call was held by the Foreign Secretary with Mr Sefcovic. She stressed that the EU must not be unwilling to alter the Protocol.

Tory Brexiteers withheld their immediate approval for the Bill and instead convened their 'Star Chamber' of politician lawyers, chaired by senior backbencher Sir Bill Cash, to scrutinise the proposals line-by-line

Tory Brexiteers withheld their immediate approval for the Bill and instead convened their ‘Star Chamber’ of politician lawyers, chaired by senior backbencher Sir Bill Cash, to scrutinise the proposals line-by-line

Simon Coveney from Ireland, who is the foreign minister of Ireland, called Ms Truss this morning to warn her that any Bill that would unilaterally alter the Protocol would be a violation of international law. He also warned her about the potential for causing a ‘deeply damaged’ relationship.

A spokesperson for Mr Coveney stated that the plan represented a “particular lowest point in the UK’s approach to Brexit”, especially since Ms Truss hadn’t engaged in meaningful negotiations with EU officials since February.

In a tweet, the Irish foreign minister implied that the UK wanted to deliberately ratchet-up tensions with EU members seeking compromise.

Apart from her discussions with Mr Coveney and Ms Truss also talked to Mr Sefcovic on the UK Government’s action.

As a demonstration of Britain’s dissatisfaction at Brussels’ position she stated: “Our preference is for a negotiated settlement, but the EU must be prepared to modify the Protocol.”

According to sources from the UK, Ms Truss wasn’t ‘picking a battle’ with the EU. She was focused on maintaining the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Brussels’ refusal of altering the Protocol required unilateral action.

Ms Truss also spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the Bill today, with President Joe Biden’s administration having previously urged the UK Government not to rip up the Protocol. 

After the Bill was published, Mr Sefcovic issued a statement stating that only joint solutions could provide the legal certainty Northern Ireland’s businesses and citizens need.

“It is with great concern that we note today’s UK Government decision to submit legislation disapplying key elements of the Protocol.

“Unilateral action can be detrimental to mutual trust.”

He said that it was impossible to re-negotiate the Protocol and warned the UK about legal action.

“No other solution to the delicate and long-negotiated equilibrium has been discovered,” Mr Sefcovic stated.

“Any renegotiation will only create more legal uncertainty for Northern Ireland’s people and businesses.”

MLAs criticize PM’s Protocol move 

Majority of Stormont Assembly MLAs signed a joint statement to Boris Johnson in which they expressed their objection to legislation that would amend the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The letter was signed by 52 MLAs. These MLAs represent Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party.

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein Stormont leader is one of the signatories.

She tweeted that the “unilateral actions by Boris Johnson” were “utterly reckless”.

It is clear that it breaches International Law. The impact on our businesses & economy could be colossal. Boris Johnson’s approach to legislation has been strongly rejected by the pro-Protocol sides, she said in a tweet.

The legislation gives ministers the power to ignore elements of Protocol. These were agreed to jointly by UK & EU in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Customs could be eliminated for goods within the United Kingdom. It would enable frictionless movement within the UK of Agri-Food goods.

A ‘green channel” would allow goods to be bound only for Northern Ireland and not subjected to inspections, while a “Red Channel” would permit exports beyond Northern Ireland.  

This could allow Northern Ireland businesses to make a choice about whether or not to adhere to EU and UK regulations. It all depends on the country they’re trading with.

To avoid losing the VAT control in Westminster, the province will not lose out on any changes to the UK.

Perhaps the most controversial part of this plan is that the government will “normalize” governance of the Treaty, so disputes can be resolved by independent arbitration and not the European Court of Justice. It has been a demand for Tory Brexiteers that was central to the negotiations with the EU.

Brussels made it clear that any Bill containing such provisions would be a violation of international law. This could lead to retaliatory actions from the bloc.

Financial Times reports that an internal note circulated among Tory MPs against the Bill. The note stated: ‘Breaking international Law to ripup the Prime Minister’s own treaty, is damaging to every thing the UK or Conservatives stand for.

Sir Keir Sternmer, Labour’s leader, stated that the Government is ‘on the wrong track’.

He stated that despite the fact there were some issues with Protocol, he believed the best way to resolve them was to acknowledge these problems and to work with trust to solve them.

‘Unfortunately they don’t exist in the Prime Minister at present.

“They will not be solved with legislation that violates international law, and that will, frankly, impede negotiations that will ultimately be required to resolve this.

“So the government is taking a wrong turn here.”

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, the party’s foreign affairs spokesperson, said: ‘It’s astounding that at exactly the moment when we should be standing united with our allies in the face of Russia’s aggression, the Conservative Government has decided to ignite a diplomatic firestorm.

Boris Johnson degraded his office of Prime Minister, by breaking laws in the home and trying to break international law overseas.

These proposals could lead to a trade war between the Conservatives and our closest neighbors, which would push prices higher.

“In these times of cost-of living emergency, it is what families across the country are most in dire need of.”

Trade union leaders voiced opposition to the government’s plans.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘It says everything about ministers’ warped priorities that in the middle of a cost-of-living emergency, they announce legislation that could provoke a trade war and cause prices to skyrocket further.

“Working people should not have to pay for such reckless moves.”

“The Government should drop this bill, honor the agreement that they signed and place practical solutions above posturing.