Minister denies NI protocol waiver would breach international law as Labor attacks ‘undermine’ reported plan | Political news

A minister has denied that the UK canceling parts of its post-Brexit trade deal with Northern Ireland would breach international law – as the government seeks sweeping powers to tear it up.

According to the bill, ministers would have the unilateral power to deactivate key elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol in UK law, including border checks on goods traveling to Northern Ireland from Britain, according to the Financial Times.

The arrangement is very sensitive because, while it is designed to avoid the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it creates a trade border in the Irish Sea – and has was rejected by the unionist parties.

According to the FT, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss have in principle approved plans to introduce a Northern Ireland Bill at the start of the next parliamentary session, which begins next month.

He said the plans – which would likely provoke anger in Brussels – have yet to be presented to the cabinet.

Northern Ireland Minister Conor Burns, speaking to LBC, would not be drawn to the FT report, but pointed out that the government already had powers under Article 16 of the protocol allowing it to suspend certain elements.

He said the arrangement caused “significant societal disruption in Northern Ireland” and hoped the EU would “come back to the table” to enable change.

“If they don’t hear that, then the government reserves the right, as we’ve always said, as provided in the protocol, to take corrective action,” he said.

Asked whether the government was preparing to breach international law over the protocol, Mr Burns told Sky News: ‘If you’re talking about the long-standing claim, going back to July last year, that we believe that the circumstances, the threshold to trigger article 16 – a provision of the treaty, of the protocol, invoking this provision – that does not violate international law.

“It’s the application of a trigger mechanism built into the protocol.”

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What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle told Sky News the plan reported by the FT was “absolutely stunning and incredibly damaging”.

“If we get away with it recklessly [the protocol] unilaterally, how will any other country in the world sign a deal with us and think we’ll honor it?” Mr Kyle said.

“How will be [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi reacts today when Boris Johnson asks for a trade deal if he unilaterally pulls out of the last trade deal he signed?

A government spokesman told the FT: ‘A decision has not yet been taken and our top priority continues to be the protection of peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson, speaking at a press conference during a trip to India, said the protocol “does not command the confidence of a large part of the population of Northern Ireland”, adding: “We have to solve this problem”.

He said that could involve “very simple and reasonable steps” and that talks with the EU would continue.

“But I’ve said many times now that we don’t rule out taking further action if necessary,” he added.