Northern Ireland: UK should be 'prepared for worst' says Sefcovic
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Brussels has claimed the UK’s proposed changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol are a “breach of international law”. But the UK Government believes changes are necessary to make trade between the UK and Northern Ireland easier.
The European Commission has launched two infringement proceedings against Britain.
The body is accusing the UK of failing to carry out phytosanitary checks on trade and not providing trade data to the EU.
European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said that changes to the protocol will “break an agreement that protects peace and stability in Northern Ireland – an agreement that we reached together only two years ago.”
He added: “Let there be no doubt: there is no legal, nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement.”
Boris Johnson said on Monday that the UK’s proposal to amend the agreement is “no big deal”.
The Prime Minister argued that his Government’s changes will remove barriers put in place by the protocol.
He said: “What it does is creates unnecessary barriers on trade from east to west. What we can do is fix that, it’s not a big deal.
“We can fix it in such a way so as to remove those bureaucratic barriers but without putting up barriers on trade moving north-south.”
What does the EU’s legal action mean for the UK?
The UK has two months to respond to the EU’s legal complaint, and failure to do so could see Brussels take the complaint to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which oversees the correct application of EU law.
The Court has the ability to fine the UK for non-compliance with the agreement if it has evidence to support the EU’s claim.
Such a result would be a blow to the British Government and damage the UK’s international reputation.
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The UK and EU have argued over the Northern Ireland Protocol several times over the past few years.
In 2021, the EU took legal action against the UK over the protocol but backed down in order to work with Britain to find a solution.
The Government believes the protocol is causing problems for the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland in the late 1990s.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland has refused to form a new power-sharing government in the country until its concerns over the protocol are addressed.
Before Brexit goods were traded on the island of Ireland easily, but after 2016 it became clear there was a problem.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to share a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which is in the EU.
However, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland don’t have a hard border due to the history of violence known as the Troubles.
A special protocol was agreed in 2019 to decide on the rules of trading between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – but it didn’t settle the matter.
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