Why a trade war with the EU looms as PM unveils plan to scrap parts of NI Protocol

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss meets European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic for talks in central London on the Northern Ireland Protocol in February. Credit: PA

In a nutshell the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill rips up any judicial or policing role for the EU in respect of trade with its single market - the biggest in the world - via Northern Ireland.

It says to Brussels, “trust Westminster” to prevent degradation of your market.

I cannot conceive of circumstances in which the EU will roll over and not retaliate, because this bill drives a coach and horse through about the only EU principle cherished in every EU capital, namely that only the EU can be trusted to preserve the integrity of its market.

I also cannot conceive of how this bill can be the basis for renewed constructive negotiations between the EU and UK.

The two sides will be in court for years, and in the meantime it will be a miracle if there isn’t a hugely expensive trade war, just when our slowing economies can least afford to impose new costs on each other.

Also the UK government’s argument that it is not breaching international law with this bill is hugely questionable.

The government invokes the concept of “necessity” to justify breaching the NI Protocol - an international treaty - because it says that failure to do so would worsen an already dire political and social crisis in Northern Ireland.

But in order to invoke “necessity”, it has to claim that it has not contributed to to this crisis, in defiance of common sense.

Before signing the Protocol, Boris Johnson and the government was repeatedly warned that it would create an economic border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and this would cause a constitutional crisis.

This point was repeatedly put to Johnson and his ministers, and just because they chose to reject it does not absolve them and the government of responsibility for the crisis.

Perhaps it is no surprise that in publishing its legal advice on the lawfulness of breaching the NI Protocol the government does not cite a single eminent lawyer in defence of its position.

Johnson will not easily slough off the charge - made even by some of his MPs - that he is wilfully breaching international law, to the detriment of the UK’s standing.

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