Post-Brexit trade between Britain and Northern Ireland at risk after bill
Written by: SOPHIE BOULTER, guest writer
The U.K. government has decided to stand by the Internal Market Bill that breaks a treaty negotiated with the European Union (EU).
The bill concerns post-Brexit trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, but simultaneously overrides parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a treaty agreed to by the EU and U.K. that establishes arrangements for Northern Ireland after Brexit.
In recent weeks, the EU has threatened to sue the U.K. over this bill, claiming that it breaks international law.
“This (bill) does break international law in a very specific and limited way,” Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. that borders a EU member-state, the Republic of Ireland. This means that Northern Ireland requires alternative arrangements to allow it to seamlessly trade with the rest of the U.K. without implementing significant restrictions between it and Ireland.
Without alternative arrangements, customs checks on trade would occur between Northern Ireland and Ireland. This would create a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The Protocol aims to avoid this by putting customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland. This continues Northern Ireland’s alignment with EU customs and state aid rules.
According to the U.K. government, EU alignment strains the U.K. internal market by treating Northern Ireland differently than other U.K. nations.
The U.K. government has come to the defense of the Internal Market Bill by emphasizing the importance of treating Northern Ireland the same as the rest of the U.K..
The U.K. government also published a legal document which stated that it may breach international law because Parliament is sovereign.
The European Commission released a statement in response on Friday that emphasized the U.K.’s legal obligation to uphold its treaty with the EU.
“(The) Agreement contains a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address violations of the legal obligations contained in the text — which the European Union will not be shy in using,” the Commission said.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, which the Internal Market Bill overrides, aimed to continue the soft border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The soft border was a core aspect of the Good Friday Agreement, a treaty that ended over thirty years of conflict in Northern Ireland.
This conflict was between unionists, who want Northern Ireland to remain in the U.K., and nationalists, who want Northern Ireland to be part of the Republic of Ireland. A soft, almost invisible border is a compromise between these two communities.
When the U.K. was part of the EU, trade could flow across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unencumbered. By passing the Internal Market Bill, the U.K. aims to maintain this soft border without jeopardizing the U.K. internal market.
“Boris Johnson’s British government is trying to keep unionists happy by keeping Northern Ireland in an internal U.K. market, while simultaneously allowing Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s market,” Xavier professor of political science Dr. Timothy White said.
The U.S. government helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement. American lawmakers have expressed concern that overriding the Northern Ireland Protocol will harm the Good Friday Agreement.
“The Good Friday Agreement is the bedrock of peace in Northern Ireland. If the U.K. violates its international agreements (and) Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted.