UK Government points tactical nuke at the Irish border

Today's Financial Times reports that the British Government is planning legislation to over-ride parts of the Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, threatening the protocol that ensures there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

The FT's Public Policy Editor Peter Foster said in a twitter thread last night:  

Per three sources with knowledge of plans the UK Internal Market bill (due on Weds) and this autumn's Finance Bill will contain clauses that  “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement”. The EU are unlikely to like this – which I guess is the point  

The report received a strong reaction from Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy:

This undermines our moral authority at a key moment. The Government has rightly criticised China and Russia for undermining the rules based order. This briefing sends a clear signal the UK no longer keeps its promises and diminishes us on the world stage

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney tweeted that 'This would be a very unwise way to proceed.'

A similar caution was reflected in Irish Government briefings to the Irish Times:

Government  sources on Sunday night called for calm, but suspected gamesmanship could be behind reports that Boris Johnson’s government could press ahead with legislation to undermine Brexit trade negotiations.

While some commentators believe the UK could be laying the groundwork to the blame the EU for a no deal outcome, the more widespread interpretation is that it is engaged in a tactical ploy.

The BBC's Chris Cook commented:

Government talk is – to use the game theory term of art – a cheap signal: it doesn’t cost anything to send it – and the talk may shore up domestic support and make concessions easier later. So: not to be taken very seriously. 

RTE's Tony Connelly reports that the UK has been seeking help from the Irish Government on the Northern Ireland Protocol in recent days: 

 The story is supported by senior sources in Dublin and London. Specifically, Irish officials have been asked if they could persuade the Commission to allow supermarket consignments going GB-NI to be checked at GB depots, rather than at NI ports 

It's possible that the UK has abandoned this line of negotiation, but it seems more likely that the latest developments reflect Johnson's willingness to deploy extreme threats to secure marginal advantage.



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