PUBLISHED: 11:52, Thu, Sep 10, 2020 | UPDATED: 11:52, Thu, Sep 10, 2020
The Prime Minister stirred up a wave of worry both inside and outside the EU when the UK published a bill on how it intended to manage trade at its borders after Brexit. The Internal Market Bill will enable ministers to overrule parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol — which is written into the withdrawal agreement — and alter the form of export declarations and other exit procedures if it is approved. However, Mr Johnson told Parliament the bill was “a legal safety net to protect our country against extreme or irrational interpretations” of the Northern Ireland protocol.
The protocol in question has riled unionists in Northern Ireland since it was introduced last year, as they fear it will isolate the country from the rest of the UK.
However, the EU and the UK wanted to ensure there was no hard border on the island of Ireland first and foremost.
The legislation meant Northern Ireland would still have to follow the rules of the EU’s single market and customs union, without being able to have any input into such rules and still officially leaving the bloc along with the rest of the UK at the end of this year.
A customs border will be drawn up down the Irish Sea instead.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (Image: Getty)
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the changes were a breach of international law (Image: Getty)
The withdrawal agreement — and the protocol — then became international law when the UK left the bloc back in January.
So, by proposing the Internal Market Bill just as the eighth round of Brexit trade talks commence and months before the end of the transition period, the Government has triggered a storm of backlash.
Downing Street claimed it would only make “minor clarifications in extremely specific areas”.
However, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted, “yes, this does break international law”, although he added that it was only illegal in a “very specific and limited way”.
READ MORE: 'Rushed’ NI Protocol jeopardises ‘UK future as independent nation'
Former Taoiseach Leo Vardkar and Johnson agreed to the NI Protocol last year (Image: Getty)
Mr Lewis also claimed that the bill would take “limited and reasonable steps to create a safety net” if the ongoing negotiations between the UK and EU failed.
Yet, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, said these comments were “gravely concerning”.
He added: “Any unilateral departure from the terms of the withdrawal agreement would be a matter of considerable