Brexit breakthrough as legal loophole ‘stops EU imposing Northern Ireland blockade’

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed at the weekend that the EU was considering implementing a food “blockade” in the Irish Sea, which could destroy “the economic and territorial integrity” of the UK and “cut” Northern Ireland off. This blockade would supposedly stop goods from Britain entering Northern Ireland. Mr Johnson argued that the controversial Internal Market Bill would help protect against such a measure, as it was a “legal safety net”. He was also addressing the EU’s ruling that the UK must outline its future food standards regime to the bloc, before it can export there.

As the Northern Ireland Protocol means Northern Ireland will be following the rules of the EU’s customs and single market after Brexit — but officially remain part of the UK — this could impact British trade within its own borders.

However, sociology professor Katy Howard of Queen’s University Belfast claimed such a blockade would not be possible, as the UK would be permitted by law – as enshrined within the withdrawal agreement – to protect itself against it.

She told Express.co.uk: “Article 16 of the [Northern Ireland] Protocol includes safeguards that can be invoked.”

This article reads: “If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.”

Ms Howard continued: “The EU has not threatened such a blockade and it could not carry it out anyway.

“It is the UK authorities who are implementing the Protocol — the UK is responsible for conducting the checks and controls on goods entering and leaving Northern Ireland.”

She continued: “The issue at hand is that the EU has not yet ‘listed’ the UK as a country authorised to sell products of animal origin into the EU.

“The UK has indicated that it wants to change at least some standards on this (e.g. for a US-UK Free Trade Agreement) and hence the EU will not automatically ‘list’ the UK as meeting the necessary standards because it cannot be sure that it will.

“The EU is currently waiting for the UK to produce the details on this, including how it will prove conformity to the relevant standards.”

Ms Howard’s observations arguably stand at odds with Mr Johnson’s claims in the Commons last night.

He accused Brussels of putting a “revolver on the table” as the EU is “threatening to carve tariff borders across our own country”.

The UK has been clear that it hopes to strike up a trade deal with the US, the nation with which it has a “special relationship”.

However, the bill itself has raised eyebrows within Washington, with the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi alleging there was “no chance” of a deal if the bill went ahead.

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Still, the professor concluded that, even if this process was to be resolved, the legislation in the Northern Ireland Protocol would still protect against anything such as a blockade from taking place.

She dismantled Mr Johnson’s claims that the new bill may assist such matters, too.

Ms Howard said: “Not only is there no risk of an EU ‘blockade’, there is absolutely nothing in the UK Internal Market Bill that would address such a scenario.”

Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney has also said that such a blockade is a “bogus claim” and dubbed it political “spin”.

He said that there may be “limited checks” on goods from Britain going into Northern Ireland, because there was an agreement to prevent physical infrastructure on the Irish border.

He told RTE radio: “There is no blockade proposed.”

Mr Johnson’s article, released in The Telegraph at the weekend, was in defence to widespread backlash against the Internal Market Bill — which some believed broke the terms of the withdrawal agreement terms, thus breaking international law.

The bill was put to Parliament last night, and despite the criticism, passed to its second reading by 77 votes.

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