By Kate Holton and Elizabeth Piper
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Wednesday rejected European Union proposals to resolve a stalemate over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, saying it would not hesitate to take action direct in the last escalation between the two parties.
The conclusion of a deal that preserved peace in Northern Ireland and protected the EU’s single market without imposing a land border between the British province and Ireland, an EU member state, or a border on the inside the UK, has always been the biggest challenge for London as it embarked on its way out of the block.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government agreed to a protocol that instead created a customs border in the sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, but now says the bureaucracy required is intolerable.
The Conservative government has been threatening to tear up the protocol for months, raising the risk of a trade war with Europe at a time of soaring inflation and raising concerns across Europe and in Washington.
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Brussels offered to ease customs checks in October, but British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that did not solve the main problem, “and in some cases would set us back”.
“Prices have risen, trade is badly disrupted and the people of Northern Ireland are subject to different laws and taxes than the Irish Sea which has left them without an executive (governing) and a threat to peace and stability,” she said in a statement.
Truss said the government wanted a negotiated solution, but added that we “will not hesitate to take action to stabilize the situation in Northern Ireland if solutions cannot be found”.
Johnson again said the most significant deal was the one reached in 1998, which largely ended decades of sectarian violence between Irish nationalists and unionists – a deal which London says is undermined by protocol.
“That means things have to command cross-community support. Obviously, as the Northern Ireland protocol fails to do that, we have to sort it out,” he said during a visit to Ireland. Sweden Wednesday.
The Times newspaper reported that Johnson’s government could legislate to drop controls on goods and tell businesses in Northern Ireland not to follow EU rules.
The decision to announce national legislation that would effectively scrap the protocol could come on Tuesday, a conservative source said.
Johnson’s spokesman declined to comment on what steps Britain might take to try to break the impasse, but reiterated that no decision had yet been made.
“The EU has confirmed that it will never change its mandate (…), and we therefore reserve the right to take further action if solutions cannot be found urgently,” he said. told reporters.
But not everyone in Britain’s ruling circles will support a legislative approach, which could also take months to pass through the lower and upper houses of parliament.
Simon Hoare, a Conservative lawmaker who chairs the Northern Ireland Parliament select committee, said “no honorable country should act unilaterally on a deal”.
If the House of Lords opposes the legislation, the government could try to use Acts of Parliament, a rarely used device that resolves disagreements between the lower and upper houses, to force it through.
Ireland, Germany and EU leaders have urged Britain not to take matters into its own hands.
But the outcome of regional elections in Northern Ireland last week gave fresh impetus and Britain said nothing should threaten the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement.
Irish nationalist Sinn Fein, which agrees to the protocol given the party’s aim of Irish Unification, became the largest party, while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which fears losing its ties with the rest of the United Kingdom, fell to second place.
The DUP has now refused to form a new power-sharing administration unless the trade rules are overhauled.
(Additional reporting by Alistair Smout and Kylie MacLellan, editing by William James, Elizabeth Piper and Mark Heinrich)
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