Get all your news in one place
100’s of premium titles. One news app. Zero ads. Just $10 per month.
The National (Scotland)

EU to retaliate if Boris Johnson acts on Northern Ireland Protocol threats

The EU has said renegotiation is not an option

THE EU is likely to retaliate against the UK Government if Boris Johnson picks a fight over the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to reports.

A Bloomberg source has said that the EU will quickly launch infringement procedures that could include stopping the favoured access UK companies have to the single market and halting talks over the status of Gibraltar.

Options for the EU also include killing off the whole deal or targeting specific UK industries.

However, the details and timing of any course of action recommended by the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, would require the backing of EU member states. If the EU were to retaliate, there would likely be a cooling-off period before barriers to trade between EU and UK were instigated.

The report comes in the wake of the Prime Minister claiming that the protocol fails to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

Johnson said on Wednesday that the protocol he brokered with the EU fails to command cross-community support in Northern Ireland, adding “we need to sort it out”.

He said: “The most important agreement is the 25-year-old Belfast Good Friday Agreement,

“That is crucial for the stability of our country of the UK, of Northern Ireland. And it’s got to be that means that things have got to command across community support.

“Plainly the Northern Ireland Protocol fails to do that and we need to sort it out.”

Johnson’s Cabinet has been echoing the Prime Minister’s threats in the media with Michael Gove claiming in a car crash BBC interview that “no option is off the table”.

Meanwhile, Liz Truss is reportedly set to tell the EU that the dispute over Northern Ireland cannot drag on, after warning she will “not shy away” from taking action as she accused the EU of proposing solutions that would “take us backwards”.

Truss has also indicated that she is prepared to take unilateral action on the matter unless new arrangements can be negotiated with the EU. However, this would be a risky strategy for the Foreign Secretary as a suspension of the trade deal would effectively enact a “no-deal Brexit” that the agreement was designed to avoid.

However, Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry has urged against UK unilateral action on the protocol.

“We hear the briefings that are gaining momentum in terms of London and we feel any move to unilaterally scrap parts of the protocol would be grossly irresponsible on the part of the UK government,” he said.

“They would add to instability in Northern Ireland, not solve things. They would leave the UK government in breach of its international obligations and send a terrible message to the international community.”

What has the EU said about the row?

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said on Tuesday that “renegotiation is not an option” on the protocol and that the EU has worked tirelessly to find solutions to the row.

Sefcovic is set to meet Truss again on Thursday.

Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said threats from the UK Government to override elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol “have gone down really badly” with the EU.

Speaking during a visit to Belfast, where he is meeting political leaders, Coveney said: “We don’t believe that the way forward in terms of solving outstanding issues can be done unilaterally by either side.

“The way to solve outstanding issues in relation to Brexit and the protocol and Northern Ireland is through partnership, through compromise and through working these issues out together in a way that both sides can move on.”

He said: “The briefing that we have seen of the British media coming from Foreign Secretary Truss and others has gone down really badly across the European Union who believe that the Commission has been showing a willingness to compromise, wants ongoing technical discussion to work out solutions and common ground.

“What they are hearing and seeing from London is a rejection of that approach, towards a breach of international law and setting aside elements of a treaty which the British Government was central to putting in place with the EU.

“That hasn’t gone down well and I hope that decision makers in Westminster will reflect on that.”

What is the Scottish reaction?

The Scottish salmon industry, the UK's largest fresh food exporter with sales of £372million to EU countries last year,  has raised fears that a trade war with the EU could have a devastating impact on Britain’s export market.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “As the political rhetoric ramps up, the wider interests of all exporters to continental Europe are not being considered.

“A trade war should be avoided at all costs.

“Like many sectors, our members have spent months addressing the challenges of Brexit, including the extra paperwork required.

“That hard work by Scottish farmers must not be jeopardised.

“As demand for our world-renowned Scottish salmon continues to soar, we urge the UK Government to navigate a way through this that doesn’t harm vital trade deals.”

Meanwhile, SNP MP Tommy Sheppard qupte tweeted the Bloomberg report on Twitter.

He said:"'Oven ready deal' they said. Another act of political and economic vandalism by this Tory Government."