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UK reportedly warns EU it could ignore key Brexit deal on Northern Ireland

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A lorry passes security at Larne Harbor in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, on 6 December 2020.

PAUL FAITH | AFP | Getty Images

The UK is expected to warn the European Union that it is willing to unilaterally set aside the Northern Ireland Protocol, a key premise of the Brexit deal, according to British media reports.

The UK government’s Brexit minister, Lord Frost, is expected to tell parliament on Wednesday that the agreement will need to be drastically changed to eliminate most controls on freight transport between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will explain the government proposals to MPs in the House of Commons. The BBC reported that the government will warn the EU that it will set the protocol aside if the two sides fail to renegotiate its implementation.

Speaking to Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the way the protocol currently works in practice is causing “significant disruption” to the people of Northern Ireland.

A reading from 10 Downing Street said Johnson stressed that the EU must “show pragmatism and find solutions to address the serious challenges posed by the protocol”.

The protocol was agreed in October 2019 to complement the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and was further negotiated in 2020. It helps avoid customs controls and an effective land border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU.

Preserving frictionless trade between the two islands is central to the Good Friday Agreement, a historic truce that ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland between Irish separatists and British loyalists.

However, it has led to port inspections on goods traveling between Britain and Northern Ireland, a development that has angered businesses and has come under criticism for effectively creating a border in the Irish Sea. Prior to winning the UK election in 2019, Johnson had promised unfettered trade access between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK

The Financial Times has reported that Frost’s proposals will seek to eliminate most of these controls to make the protocol work in practice.

Paul Donovan, chief economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, said Wednesday’s proposals will simply be the latest in a “nasty and endless” tit-for-tat between the UK and the EU.

“Both sides will be very dramatic. As the drama is more of a signal of the poor state of UK-EU relations than a catalyst for immediate disruption, markets are unlikely to react,” he said.

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