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UK abandoning Northern Ireland deal endangers trade deals with US, EU: Experts

Monday, 24 February 2020 7:54 AM  [ Last Update: Monday, 24 February 2020 8:27 AM ]

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

Traffic passes an “No Hard Border” anti-Brexit, pro-Irish unity billboard poster as it crosses the border road between Newry in Northern Ireland, on February 1, 2020, and Dundalk in Ireland. (AFP photo)

Boris Johnson’s Brexit negotiating team has apparently been tasked with devising a plan to “get around” the Northern Ireland protocol in the EU withdrawal agreement, a move experts have warned against.

It is expected the PM will ask his Brexit “war cabinet” to approve the plan before it is published on Thursday, according to The Sunday Times.

Former Irish ambassador to the EU Bobby McDonagh has warned that any attempt to deviate from the terms of the agreement would have dire consequences for Downing Street’s long-promised trade agreement between the UK and the US.

“If UK Gov were to renege on its legal obligations under Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to protect Good Friday Agreement it would have many consequences. One would the end of any prospect of a UK-US trade deal,” McDonagh tweeted.

Former Irish ambassador to Britain Bobby McDonagh

Also, Catherine Barnard, professor of EU law at Cambridge University, said if the UK did not show good faith legally, there would be immediate consequences.

“If we renege on the terms of the withdrawal agreement, that will trigger the dispute resolution arrangements in the withdrawal agreement.”

“But it is not just the legal issue. It would also damage Britain’s reputation in other trade negotiations because it would raise the matter of whether Britain can be trusted.”

Under the terms of the Brexit deal signed in January, the UK and the EU have agreed to a series of checks between Britain and Northern Ireland to avoid a hard border between NI and the Irish Republic. That list includes health and safety checks on food and live animals entering the region from Britain.

To guard against any sub-EU standard goods, including factory components and electronics goods such as mobile phones, finding their way into the republic and therefore into the EU single market, there will also be regulatory checks.

“If, as some comments suggest, it were to renege on its legal obligations to carry our checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland, it is hard to see what value the EU, or indeed any country, would see in a future trade deal with the UK. If the UK were to walk away from the binding provisions designed to preserve the balances of the Good Friday agreement, which it agreed to after lengthy negotiations, there would seem in particular to be no prospect of any UK/US trade deal being ratified by Congress,” McDonagh said.

As a concession, the British government agreed to carry out checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – avoiding the need for any infrastructure on the Irish border and offering some protection for businesses that trade on the island of Ireland.

Throughout the UK’s departure from the EU, Ireland and the US have maintained close ties, with the most senior Democratic Party politician, Nancy Pelosi saying there would be no UK-US trade deal if Brexit did anything to imperil the Good Friday agreement.

Nancy Pelosi

Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard said the UK government “must not be allowed to sidestep their responsibilities”.

“While there is no such thing as a good Brexit, the protections secured in the Irish Protocol and Withdrawal Agreement offer some protections to local communities and businesses in the north,” he added.

“It now appears the British government is planning to ride roughshod over what has already been agreed; this would be completely unacceptable.”

Irish republican Sinn Fein party leader Mary Lou McDonald (R) (AFP photo)

“We need to see the EU27 and the Irish government protecting what has already been agreed on the north and working to prevent the Tories from adopting an a la carte approach to their international obligations and responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, a UK government spokesman said: “The UK signed the Withdrawal Agreement, including the protocol, last month,” adding, “The UK will comply with its obligations.”

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