Boris Johnson has been warned by his Irish counterparts that ditching the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland would be a historic low point citing the outbreak of war in Ukraine as a reason why international law must be respected.
With Downing Street expected to table controversial draft legislation over key parts of the withdrawal agreement next week, the taoiseach, Miche l Martin, said in an address on Wednesday morning to the European Parliament that in ignoring its obligations under international law the British government would make the world less safe, and that Johnson must not treat lightly the hard-won peace on the island of Ireland.
Martin said that it would mark a historic low, signalling a disregard for essential principles of laws, which are the foundation of international relations. It would be to the benefit of absolutely no one. Without a spirit of partnership, there would be no peace process in Northern Ireland.
Without trust, without engagement and without a willingness to see things from the point of view of others, there would be no Good Friday agreement, nor quarter of a century of peace in Northern Ireland in which young people have been able to grow and flourish as themselves. This is so hard-won as we look across our continent, as we see what is at stake when international law is threatened, and it falls to all of us to work together and to stand by what we have agreed. The prime minister is expected to push forward next week with legislation that would exempt food and goods entering Northern Ireland from the EU checks the government agreed to in the Brexit deal, despite the misgivings of many of his MPs. After a difficult week when his Premiership was badly weakened by a split in a confidence vote, many Brexiter members of Johnson's party would welcome the move.
The proposed legislation could be the first of many flashpoints with the 148 rebel MPs who made up 41% of Tory MPs who want him to resign.
On Monday, the Conservative MP Jesse Norman, a former Treasury minister, said in a letter he wrote against Johnson that breaching the Northern Ireland protocol would be economically very damaging, politically foolhardy and almost certainly illegal The government, echoing the complaints of the Democratic Unionist Party DUP, has said that the current arrangements are undermining the Good Friday agreement by erecting barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
After an initially warm response from British ministers, a more thoroughgoing renegotiation is needed, the European Commission has tried to placate concerns with a series of proposals that would cut down the level of paperwork facing traders.
Martin said to MEPs that it is perfectly reasonable to look for ways to improve the operation of the protocol. We have seen bad faith efforts to undermine a treaty freely entered into, instead of trying to create a positive atmosphere for all to engage. We have seen attempts to block agreements or introduce new problems and we have said many times that there are solutions to practical problems under the protocol if there is a political will to find them. That requires partnership. The United Kingdom government has to engage with good faith, seriousness and commitment. One of the proposed legislation will take many months to go through parliament, during which the UK and the commission negotiating teams are expected to carry on with their talks.