UK to reportedly warn EU that it may override key Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland

The U.K. is expected to warn the European Union that it is willing to unilaterally override the Northern Ireland Protocol, a key tenet of the Brexit agreement, according to British media reports.

The British government’s Brexit minister, Lord Frost, is expected to tell Parliament on Wednesday that the agreement needs drastic changes in order to eliminate most checks on goods traveling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile Brandon Lewis, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, will explain the government’s proposals to members of Parliament in the House of Commons. The BBC reported that the government will warn the EU that it will override the Protocol should the two parties fail to renegotiate its implementation.

In a call with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin on Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the way the protocol is currently operating in practice is causing “significant disruption” for the people of Northern Ireland.

A readout from 10 Downing Street said Johnson stressed that the EU “must show pragmatism and solutions needed to be found to address the serious challenges that have arisen with the Protocol.”

The Protocol was agreed in Oct. 2019 as an accompaniment to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and underwent further negotiation in 2020. It helps prevent customs checks and an effective land border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU.

The preservation of frictionless trade between the two islands is central to the Good Friday Agreement, a historic truce which brought an end to three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland between Irish separatists and British loyalists.

on goods traveling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a development that has angered businesses and drawn criticism for effectively creating a border in the Irish Sea. Prior to winning the U.K. election in 2019, Johnson had promised that there would be unfettered trade access between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

The Financial Times has reported that Frost’s proposals will seek to eliminate most of these checks in order to make the protocol work in practice.

Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, said Wednesday’s proposals will simply be the latest in a “tedious and interminable” tit-for-tat between the U.K. and the EU.

“Both sides will be very dramatic. As the drama is more a signal of the poor state of U.K.-EU relations than a catalyst for immediate disruption, markets are unlikely to react,” he said.

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