EU trade officials have a ‘hit list’ of UK products as trade war looms

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Scottish whisky exports into the EU, and the transport of car components in and out of the English midlands and north, will be hit by retaliation against Britain in a looming trade conflict with Brussels.

he EU is now expected to launch legal action against the UK after ministers controversially claimed an emergency loophole allowed them to scrap post-Brexit checks and standards in the North.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued changes in new legislation finally announced yesterday were “relatively trivial” measures designed to ease trade disruption between the North and England, Scotland and Wales, as the bill was published yesterday.

But EU Brexit chief Maros Sefcovic warned Brussels will launch legal action for infringing the Northern Ireland Protocol. At the same time a majority of members of the North’s Stormont assembly accused Mr Johnson of recklessly destabilising the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Under the plan the UK government would scrap checks on goods from Britain destined for the North rather than the EU via the Republic.

There would be a “green lane” with a “red lane” allowing existing checks for goods destined for EU countries.

British firms exporting to the North could choose between meeting EU or UK standards.

Crucially, changes would also remove the role of the EU Court of Justice in resolving single market disputes, replacing it with independent arbitration.

Mr Sefcovic said the changes were “damaging” and he said the commission will revive a legal action put aside last year.

Brussels officials said there was “zero sympathy” in any EU quarter for the UK’s ongoing efforts to wriggle out of deals it signed in October 2019, and confirmed in December 2020, all of which were later ratified by the European Parliament.

“This is seen entirely as an internal struggle within the British Conservative Party. It’s about Boris Johnson’s battle to remain as leader and others, such as Liz Truss, to oust him,” the official said.

“This is a reasonable, practical solution to the problems facing Northern Ireland,” foreign secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

“It will safeguard the EU Single Market and ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland.”

It was confirmed that a “hit list” of UK export and import products has been developed to retaliate if the British draft law become reality.

The list has a political edge targeting Scotch whisky and car products in the English midlands and north where Mr Johnson’s party made gains in the 2019 general election.

Under the new draft law, expected to face considerable opposition in the London parliament, the government would scrap checks for firms selling goods from Britain destined for the North rather than the EU via the Republic.

Proposed changes would also allow British firms exporting to the North to choose between meeting EU or UK standards on regulation, which are expected to increasingly diverge.

Crucially, changes would also remove the role of the EU Court of Justice in resolving single market disputes, replacing it with independent arbitration.

Mr Sefcovic said the changes were “damaging” and he threatened to take UK ministers to court.

“As the first step, the commission will consider continuing the infringement procedure launched against the UK government in March 2021.

“We had put this legal action on hold in September 2021 in the spirit of constructive co-operation to create the space to look for joint solutions.

“The UK’s unilateral action goes directly against the spirit,” the Slovakian Commission vice-president said.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said it was right that the UK government has acted on the protocol and said he would read the bill against his party’s tests for removing the Irish Sea border.

He also denied that his party was under pressure to re-enter powersharing at Stormont now that the UK government has published the legislation.

Sinn Féin’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said the UK bill to override parts of the protocol was “reckless and disgraceful”.

Ms O’Neill said the bill was a clear breach of international law.

She is one of 52 MLAs who have signed a joint letter to the UK prime minister stating their opposition.

“Boris Johnson’s action is illegal, he is in clear breach of international law, regardless of the detail,” she said.



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