Brexit: Sidestepping agreement on Northern Ireland could put trade deal with US at risk, Johnson warned

Ministers ‘must not be allowed to sidestep their responsibilities,’ says Sinn Fein MP

Vincent Wood
Sunday 23 February 2020 22:17
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Belfast port. The Withdrawal Agreement was designed to prevent checks cannot be carried on goods near the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland
Belfast port. The Withdrawal Agreement was designed to prevent checks cannot be carried on goods near the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland

Bypassing agreed checks on goods in the Irish Sea could mark the end of any hopes of US-UK trade deal, Boris Johnson’s government has been warned amid claims it will renege on its commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement.

The prime minister is reported to have ordered his Brexit team to find ways to “get around” agreed protocol on Northern Ireland that would see goods checked as they are transported to Great Britain following the end of the transition period.

He is expected to ask his Brexit ‘war cabinet’ to approve the plan before it is published on Thursday, according to The Sunday Times.

But Ireland’s former envoy to the European Union warned attempt to swerve the agreement could mean the premature end of Downing Street’s long-promised trade agreement between the UK and the US.

The protocol had been designed to protect both the integrity of the single market and the autonomy of the United Kingdom after Brexit – and sets out that checks cannot be carried out near the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

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

Former ambassador Bobby McDonagh tweeted: “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.”

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

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.

“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.”

A UK government spokesman said: “The UK signed the Withdrawal Agreement, including the protocol, last month.

“The UK will comply with its obligations.”

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