Will the EU trigger a Brexit trade war over unilateral action?

Liz Truss outlines 'necessity to act' on Northern Ireland protocol

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The deadlock between the UK and EU over the much-maligned Northern Ireland protocol could trigger a trade war between the two powers, the bloc has hinted. On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told the House of Commons the Government will in the coming weeks publish a law which will allow ministers to make changes to post-Brexit border rules in Northern Ireland without seeking the permission of the EU.

Ms Truss said the UK remained open to a “negotiated solution”, but said the urgency of the situation in Northern Ireland meant “we can’t afford to delay any longer”.

There have now been months of fruitless negotiations with Brussels, leading the Foreign Secretary to pull the plug on EU dithering last week by threatening the bloc with a deadline.

The DUP, which has so far blocked the formation of power sharing in Stormont until its demands for the protocol have even met, welcomed the news from Ms Truss.

But the decision has been met with warnings of retaliation from EU leaders.

Maros Sefcovic, the Vice President of the European Commission and key negotiator for the bloc, said that if the UK goes ahead with unilateral action, then the EU “will need to respond with all measures at its disposal”.

What will the EU do?

Mr Sefcovic said in response to the announcement: “Should the UK decide to move ahead with a Bill disapplying constitutive elements of the protocol as announced today by the UK Government, the EU will need to respond with all measures at its disposal.

“Our overarching objective is to find joint solutions within the framework of the protocol.

“That is the way to ensure legal certainty and predictability for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

“With political will and commitment, practical issues arising from the implementation of the protocol in Northern Ireland can be resolved.

“The European Commission stands ready to continue playing its part, as it has from the outset.”

It’s not entirely clear what steps would be taken by the bloc, but it could result in a suspension of all Brexit trade deals.

This would mean the UK would automatically back onto World Trade Organization terms with EU countries.

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What does the EU want?

The bloc has proposed reducing checks on goods moving from Britain to NI – but has refused to slash them altogether.

The UK Government’s proposed changes include allowing products moving from Britain to NI to be fast-tracked through so-called ‘green lanes’ to ensure they are not subject to the same checks as goods destined for Ireland in the EU.

But the EU is yet to relent to the demand.

The EU also wants safeguards to be put in place to stop goods moving from Britain to the Republic of Ireland that are not checked in line with single market rules.

This would entail giving the bloc full access to UK IT systems.

The UK also wants to scrap the European Court of Justice’s role in overseeing the deal in favour of an alternative “dispute resolution process”.

But the EU has outright dismissed the UK’s desire to remove the European Court of Justice’s role in administering the protocol.

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