The British government appears to have no political will to resolve its festering trade dispute with the European Union and risks endangering the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said last month that it it would pass a law to scrap parts of a trade treaty with the EU signed less than two years ago. The EU has threatened to retaliate, raising the specter of a trade war between the two major economic partners.
“I just simply do not detect a sustained political will on behalf of the U.K. government to settle this, to resolve this, because it without question can be resolved,” Martin told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France.
Britain said its unilateral move to change the legally binding treaty — an apparent breach of international law — is an insurance policy in case it can’t reach an agreement with the 27-nation bloc to end their dispute over post-Brexit trade rules.
Martin said that instead of the British government trying to help fix things, “we have actually seen efforts to block agreements and introduce new problems.”
British unionists in Northern Ireland – the only part of the U.K. that shares a border with an EU member state, Martin’s Ireland — oppose the trade rules, which created a customs border in the Irish Sea.
They say the new checks have put a burden on businesses and frayed the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. Britain’s Conservative government insists the rules are hurting the economy and undermining peace in Northern Ireland.
When Britain left the bloc and its borderless free-trade zone, a deal was made to keep the Irish land border free of customs posts and other checks, because an open border is a key pillar of the peace process that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland.
Instead, to protect the EU’s single market, there are checks on some goods, such as meat and eggs, entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K.
“Unilateral action to set aside a solemn agreement would be deeply damaging,” Martin told the European Parliament on Wednesday. “It would mark a historic low point signaling a disregard for essential principles of laws which are the foundations of international relations. And it would quite literally be for the benefit of absolutely no one.”