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Tensions Rise as the UK Breaks International Law

Inflation has just hit a 40-year high of 9.1% in May, a cost-of-living crisis is running rampant through all levels of society and nationwide, trade union strikes are threatening to destabilise an already weakening economy whose GDP shrank 0.3% in April – doesn’t the government have enough headaches to deal with already, without creating their own? Apparently not. Last week the European Union decided to take new legal action against the UK over post-Brexit deal changes after they believed the actions by the government infringed on international law.

Brexit is not an easy subject – in fact, it’s probably as complicated as many things get. None more so than Northern Ireland, whose border with the Republic of Ireland has caused some of the longest and most arduous deliberations in political history. In 2019, the UK and the EU agreed on the Northern Ireland Protocol which came into effect when the UK left the EU Single Market and Customs Union in 2021. The protocol, enforced by international law, would see Northern Ireland remain in the Single Market for goods, which in turn would avoid a hard border with Ireland. Given the sensitivity of the history between the UK and Ireland and a determination from both the UK and the EU to maintain the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement, this protocol was a crucial step toward any UK-EU post-Brexit trade deal.

However, earlier this month UK Ministers outlined a bill that sought to change trade, tax and governance arrangements settled in the 2019 agreement and ultimately scrap some of the legislation that they believed disrupted both trade and power-sharing in Northern Ireland. The move was met with fierce retaliation from the EU, who claimed that

there was “no legal or political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an agreement” and ultimately that the move, which was partly in response to checks that had been imposed on some goods between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, was “illegal.” The European Commission has launched further claims against the UK, arguing that it has failed in its obligations to share trade data and set up border inspection points. This dispute could result in the UK being fined in a process which is being overseen by the European Court of Justice. Nevertheless, there is still hope for the UK government in this matter; any legal action taken by the EU would be strung out over the course of a few months, meaning there would be a chance for tensions to be cooled and plans to be redrawn. Furthermore, the EU has adamantly maintained a position of negotiation, claiming that the door will always be open for talks with the UK, rather than the need for international law-breaking.

Trade with the EU has been an issue that has plagued politicians and economists alike for years now and perhaps it is finally coming to a head. UK exports to the EU fell by 15.6% in the first half of 2021, directly as a result of frictions caused by Brexit negotiations. Despite resurrecting exports to the EU to pre-pandemic levels, the UK is still not on track to produce sustainable growth in this area of the economy. Connections with Europe have been a vital lifeline for the sustainability of the UK economy for decades, but now those connections are fading. Boris Johnson is looking to further undermine any allegiance that Britain may have once had to the EU by questioning the UK’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights after a court in Strasbourg intervened to prevent the deportation of migrants from the UK to Rwanda as part of a new protocol from the Home Office.

When 52% of the British population voted to leave the EU in June 2016, this was not the deal that they voted for. But having already forced an agreement to quell the noise surrounding Brexit from both sides of the political spectrum, the UK government is now demonstrating its indifference in breaking international law to get what they want retrospectively. At a time where European collectiveness is pivotal in combatting Russian aggression and with Ukraine steps away from admittance into the EU, the UK government is picking battles with their own allies, which doesn’t sit well with the EU, or those in the UK for that matter.


Edited and Reviewed by Tanish Bagga.


References/ Wider Reading:

Brexit trade friction caused 15% fall in UK-EU exports in first half of 2021 – Financial Times

UK’s approach to solving the protocol problems is illegal – Financial Times

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