by William Schomberg
LONDON, May 15 (Reuters) – Boris Johnson has said he wants to settle the dispute with the European Union over post-Brexit trade rules over Northern Ireland, but the British Prime Minister has not ruled out the option of unilateral action which, according to the EU, could trigger a trade war.
Boris Johnson is due to visit Belfast on Monday to urge local political leaders to form a new power-sharing government, a key institution under the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement.
After this month’s election, pro-British trade unionists refused to join the new administration over their opposition to Northern Ireland’s protocol governing post-Brexit trade rules.
Boris Johnson, in excerpts from a Belfast Telegraph newspaper article published on Sunday, said protocol reform was essential for Northern Ireland to move forward.
“There is undoubtedly a reasonable landing place in which everyone’s interests are protected,” he said. “Our common goal must be to create the broadest possible cross-community support for a reformed protocol in 2024.”
Boris Johnson agreed to the protocol in 2019 to allow Britain to leave the EU’s single market and customs union without checks being imposed at the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, an essential element of the peace agreement.
But the protocol actually put in place a customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, angering many Unionists.
The British Prime Minister tried to renegotiate the protocol and threatened to take unilateral action if the EU did not accept London’s proposals.
“I hope the EU’s position will change,” he said. “If this is not the case, it will be necessary to act.”
“The government has a responsibility to provide assurance that consumers, citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland are protected over the long term. We will present a more detailed assessment and next steps to Parliament in the coming days.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has previously urged Boris Johnson not to introduce new trade laws which he says could undermine the peace process in Northern Ireland.
“There is no way for the EU to compromise if the UK threatens to act unilaterally to adopt national legislation to nullify international obligations arising from an international treaty.” (French version Benjamin Mallet)