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The UK is threatening to cancel parts of the Brexit deal

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Johnson will visit Northern Ireland on Monday to hold urgent talks.

Daniel Leal | Afp | Getty Images

LONDON The UK Government is again threatening to unilaterally bypass large parts of the Brexit agreement agreed with the European Union, raising the prospect of a trade war amid a crisis of power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Belfast on Monday in a bid to ease tensions over the Northern Ireland protocol, part of the post-Brexit trade deal which calls for controls on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest. of MB.

The hastily organized trip comes shortly after Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party blocked the election of the Stormont Assembly chairman effectively preventing the formation of a new executive in the province.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which came in second after Sinn Fein in the May 5 election, has refused to re-enter the executive until protocol is rewritten. The agreement entered into force in January last year after it was created to avoid the need for a strong border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which remains part of the EU.

DUP says UK lawmakers should repeal the protocol, arguing that a customs border has been set up across the Irish Sea and this undermines Northern Ireland’s country within the UK

Northern Ireland Protocol requires controls on some goods entering the province from the rest of the UK

Pali Besimi | Afp | Getty Images

Sinn Fein, who accepts the protocol, has the right to appoint the first executive minister after becoming the first nationalist party to win the most seats in Northern Ireland’s 101-year history.

However, under a power-sharing agreement introduced in the 1990s, a new government could not be formed without the DUP. The first minister and deputy minister must be a trade unionist and a nationalist.

The lack of a functioning transferred government has raised concerns among UK lawmakers. That’s because without it, there is a fear of a return to street violence that could threaten the fragile peace since the Good Friday Agreement.

Signed on 10 April 1998, the Good Friday Agreement is a historic ceasefire that ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland between Irish separatists and British loyalists.

Why is the protocol at risk?

Johnson, despite renegotiating and signing the Northern Ireland protocol, is reconsidering whether to make changes to the agreement, a move that would jeopardize EU retaliation and could start a trade war.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph on Sunday, Johnson said “there will be a necessity to act” on the protocol if the EU’s position does not change. He said the deal was now outdated given that it was designed before the coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s war with Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned last week that the UK would have “no choice but to act” if EU lawmakers did not show the “necessary flexibility” on the protocol.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic has said it is “simply unacceptable” for the UK to make such threats, adding that it continues to be a “serious concern” that the Johnson government intends to take a unilateral course of action.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s first newly elected Minister.

Charles Mcquillan | Getty Images News Getty Images

The EU proposed changes in the protocol of october last year, focused on further flexibilities regarding the field of food, plant and animal health and medicine, among others. The UK rejected this plan.

“The UK Government, for its part, is simply looking for what I think in the jargon of the current political debate in Westminster is known as ‘red meat’,” Christopher Granville, managing director at the consultancy, told CNBC by telephone. TS Lombard.

“So fixing on an exciting Brexit-related EU issue that seeks to divide the UK and dictate to the UK and the UK government shows that it is standing up to Brussels and removing protocol, ”said Granville.

Asked if Downing Street’s position on the protocol appeared to be designed to distract the British electorate from issues such as the cost-of-living crisis and the damage to local election results, Granville said: “Exactly. This is my reading and this that’s why it comes around from time to time. “

“The reality is that the EU, under Commissioner Sefcovic, has been open all the time to discuss pragmatic ways to adapt the functioning of the protocol and has gone along with various waivers and moratoriums, but it certainly does not do the trick. nor politically. for the DUP or the UK government ”.

Belgium’s De Croo and Germany’s Scholz have called on the UK to avoid taking unilateral action over the Northern Ireland protocol.

James Arthur Gekiere | Afp | Getty Images

Germany’s Olaf Scholz has called on the UK to avoid taking unilateral action on the protocol, while Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has said that non-compliance with the UK agreement would create a significant problem for the EU internal market. .

“Our message is quite clear. Do not touch this,” De Croo told a news conference with Scholz on May 10. “This is something we agreed on and the agreements must be respected.”

Meanwhile, the US has encouraged dialogue between Britain and the EU to resolve the stalemate.

Former British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned that removing the parts of the protocol could damage Britain’s reputation for complying with international law.

Trade war

The UK government is not thought to have decided whether to promote Article 16 of the protocol, a safeguard mechanism that allows either party to suspend parts of the agreement if it is seen to be causing serious problems.

Mujtaba Rahman, Managing Director at Eurasia Group Consulting, has estimated that legislation enabling the government to unilaterally repeal the protocol will take at least six months to a year to agree, citing opposition to the measure in the House. of the Lords.

“In the short term, a more militant UK-EU relationship is likely along with legal proceedings resumed by Brussels, with the risk of a trade war only next year,” Rahman said in a research note.

Sterling was last seen trading at $ 1.2216 on Monday morning, down about 0.4% for the session.

“There are many reasons for the pound to weaken at the moment. First of all, the superior aggressiveness of the US Fed and the strength of the US economy which can withstand higher interest rates compared to the high risk of stagflation in the UK, Granville. tha.

“But at the border, if the risk of the UK-EU trade agreement collapsing would be perceived as fat, which is definitely a scenario, then you can expect an additional pound weakness,” he added.

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