British Foreign Minister Liz Truss has presented the Northern Ireland Protocol bill to the UK parliament and said "we are acting within international law".

She told MPs: "We are changing the Northern Ireland Protocol, not getting rid of it."

Ms Truss said she had spoken to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the new legislation to govern post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland.

"We are in regular contact on this issue, they are an important ally."

She said the US wanted to see the situation "sorted out" and the "peace deal restored".

The British government's summary of its legal position on the Northern Ireland Protocol legislation states the move is justified under international law because of the "genuinely exceptional situation".

The legal position argues the move is necessary because the protocol is currently not protecting the commitments to the Good Friday Agreement.

It states: "The government recognises that necessity can only exceptionally be invoked to lawfully justify non-performance of international obligations.

"This is a genuinely exceptional situation and it is only in the challenging, complex and unique circumstances of Northern Ireland that the government has, reluctantly, decided to introduce legislative measures which, on entry into force, envisage the non-performance of certain obligations.

"It is the government's position that in light of the state of necessity, any such non-performance of its obligations contained in the Withdrawal Agreement and/or the protocol as a result of the planned legislative measures would be justified as a matter of international law.

"This justification lasts as long as the underlying reasons for the state of necessity are present. The current assessment is that this situation and its causes will persist into the medium to long term."

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The European Union could take legal action against the UK as soon as Wednesday in response to the bill to overturn the Northern Ireland Protocol, RTÉ News understands.

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said the EU will not renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol agreement.

"Renegotiating the protocol is unrealistic ... Any renegotiation would simply bring further legal uncertainty for people and businesses in Northern Ireland. For these reasons, the European Union will not renegotiate the protocol," he said in a statement.

Mr Šefčovič confirmed the commission would now look at restarting "infringement proceedings" against the UK which have been on hold since September 2021.


Analysis

It does feel like déjà vu regarding British Tories and the EU.

The ERG, a small group of hard Brexiteers, is again making all the running on the UK's relationship with Europe and "egging on" senior figures with leadership ambitions.

And the Conservatives are again essentially debating the EU with each other without any apparent thought to what would be acceptable in Brussels.

It is being claimed that the Northern Ireland Protocol legislation was essentially contracted out by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to the ERG who wanted the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to be removed from any say in how Northern Ireland operates.

To the ERG the protocol means that the EU is left with a presence in a part of the UK and it is feared that they will keep coming back until every last vestige of the EU is removed.

In fact it is reported that they had demanded a "Sunset Clause" which would allow the British government to do just that - to scrap all EU rules from Northern Ireland after a number of years. That did not make it into the legislation.

It is also reported that when Liz Truss took her proposals to cabinet it provoked a row. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Housing Minister Michael Gove opposed removing the CJEU on the basis that it would immediately provoke retaliatory action at a time of economic difficulty.

It is reported that Boris Johnson sided with Mr Sunak and Mr Gove at the meeting but was somehow prevailed upon the next day to support removing the CJEU - something that is known to be unacceptable to Brussels.

However, the legislation could be delayed for up to two years particularly in the Lords where it is believed a majority are opposed. It could also be weakened by amendments.

Many Tories believe that it is a more of a bargaining position than something that definitely will become law. The message is being put out in certain circles that this is the only type of action that will make the EU sit up and listen.

The British government also published its legal position to justify its claim that the legislation would not be in breach of international law.

It is arguing that it is allowed to change the protocol because of "necessity". That is only allowed where the situation is "exceptional" and where the action taken does not "seriously impair the essential interests of the other states".

Also necessity cannot be claimed by a state that has "contributed the situation of necessity".

Plenty for lawyers to argue about there.


Earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted the plan to effectively override parts of the Brexit agreement with Brussels was "not a big deal".

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the plan would "ratchet up" tension and breach the UK's international commitments.

But Mr Johnson insisted the legislation would introduce "relatively simple" bureaucratic changes and warned it would be a "gross overreaction" if Brussels sought to retaliate by triggering a trade war.

Ms Truss briefed Mr Coveney about the legislation in a call this morning.

A spokesman for Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said Mr Coveney told her that "publishing legislation that would breach the UK's commitments under international law, the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland Protocol is deeply damaging to relationships on these islands and between the UK and EU".

The plan marked a "particular low point in the UK's approach to Brexit, especially as Ms Truss has not engaged with negotiations with the EU in any meaningful way since February", the spokesman said.

Mr Coveney used a Twitter post to suggest the UK was seeking to "deliberately ratchet up tension with an EU seeking compromise".

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

In a sign of the UK's frustration at Brussels' stance, she said: "Our preference is a negotiated solution, but the EU must be willing to change the protocol itself."

UK government sources said Ms Truss was not "picking a fight" with the EU but was focused on preserving the Good Friday Agreement and Brussels' refusal to alter the protocol meant unilateral action was required.

The legislation will give ministers powers to override elements of the protocol, which was jointly agreed by Mr Johnson's government and the EU as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to keep the Irish land border free-flowing.

The arrangements instead require regulatory checks and customs declarations on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, because they could flow through the open border with Ireland into the EU's single market.

Mr Johnson told LBC Radio: "What we have to respect - this is the crucial thing - is the balance and the symmetry of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

"We have to understand there are two traditions in Northern Ireland, broadly two ways of looking at the border issues. One community at the moment feels very, very estranged from the way things are operating and very alienated.

"We have just got to fix that. It is relatively simple to do it, it's a bureaucratic change that needs to be made.

"Frankly, it's a relatively trivial set of adjustments in the grand scheme of things."

The legislation is expected to face opposition in the British House of Commons - including from some within the Tory ranks - and ministers will face an even tougher battle in the House of Lords.

The Financial Times reported that an internal note had been circulating among Tories opposed to the Bill, which said: "Breaking international law to rip up the Prime Minister's own treaty is damaging to everything the UK and Conservatives stand for."

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will see the British government reduce the checks on the movement of goods across the Irish Sea.

This could include establishing a "green lane" to remove all customs processes for goods moving within the United Kingdom and enable the frictionless movement of agri-food goods staying in Northern Ireland.

It could also see businesses in Northern Ireland given the ability to choose whether to follow UK or EU regulations, depending on who they are trading with.

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer said: "I think the answer to this is to accept there are some problems in the way the protocol works but they can be resolved around the negotiating table with statecraft, with guile, with trust.

"Unfortunately, we don't have those in the current prime minister.

"They won't be resolved with legislation that breaches international law and that, frankly, will impede the negotiations that, in the end, will be needed to settle this.

"So the government is going down the wrong track here."