EU Reportedly Mulling 'Targeted Trade Tariffs’ to Force BoJo to U-Turn on Tearing Up NI Protocol
05:20 GMT 19.05.2022 (Updated: 15:19 GMT 28.05.2023)
Earlier, the European Commission pledged to resort to “all measures at its disposal” if Britain should forge ahead with a plan to rewrite parts of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol.
Against the backdrop of continued sabre rattling over contentious aspects of post-Brexit trade rules between the UK and the European Union, Brussels is believed to be mulling punitive measures to force Boris Johnson to abandon plans to override
the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The EU intends to unleash a “targeted” trade war that might have the desired effect of swaying the UK prime Minister into making a U-turn on the deal which is part of the original Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, according to British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph.
“It is a long-standing practice of the [European] Commission to target its trade defence policy to avoid contingent effects and to support political objectives,” a senior EU official was quoted as saying.
According to the plan, believed to be in its early stages, efforts would be made to turn the British Prime Minister’s political allies against him. Specifically, crippling trade tariffs could be unleashed against British products made in so-called "red wall" constituencies, (formerly considered safe Labour seats) - mainly in the Midlands, northern England and north-east Wales.
With Johnson having a vested interest in maintaining his backing in the area, a source suggested businesses in these constituencies - gained by the Tories - could be the first to be hit with tariffs.
Thus, products such as Nissan cars, Cadbury chocolate, Heinz ketchup, JCB tractors and Jaguar Land Rover vehicles could be hit with rises in duty as part of the planned retaliatory measures by Brussels, according to the newspaper.
The same punitive measure would allegedly target elected Cabinet ministers and vocal “Brexiteers” - a term applied to those who lobbied for the UK to withdraw from the EU.
Brussels reportedly hopes that this might generate enough pressure to compel Johnson to reverse his course on the NI protocol.
The report suggests that the plan is similar to the tactic used by the EU in its tit-for-tat trade row with former Republican US President Donald Trump in 2018.
At the time, as Trump announced a 25 percent “America First” import tariff on European-made steel and 10 percent on aluminium, the European Commission president at the time, Jean-Claude Juncker, stated that Brussels would not “put [its] head in the sand”.
The EU slapped punitive trade tariffs
on such celebrated American products as Levi’s jeans, Harley-Davidson motorbikes, bourbon whiskey, and Florida orange juice (Florida being a critical swing state in elections). Furthermore, EU officials deliberately targeted products manufactured in key GOP states.
“It was part of the conversation with the US and has been on the table several times over the past couple of years whenever the UK threatened to blow up the [Brexit] deal,” the EU official added.
On 17 May, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss revealed plans
to table a Bill that could override key parts of the 2019 Brexit deal relating to the NI protocol.
Britain has argued that the plans to revoke part of the original Withdrawal Bill are being drawn up to protect the Good Friday Agreement, which is purportedly being “undermined” by the protocol.
Downing Street also sees resolving the NI protocol stalemate as essential in prompting the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to re-engage with Sinn Fein over power sharing in the Northern Ireland's Assembly.
Agreed by the UK and EU in 2019, the arrangement, known as the NI protocol, keeps Northern Ireland (in the UK) aligned with the EU single market for goods, thus avoiding a hard border with the Republic of Ireland (in the European Union). The measure was adopted to safeguard a vital element of the 1998 Good Friday peace deal that had put an end to several decades of violence in Northern Ireland.
As Truss, speaking in Parliament, touted the fact that legislation would presuppose waiving all checks on goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland when they are not destined for the Republic of Ireland, Brussels bristled with indignation.
The European Commission pledged to resort to “all measures at its disposal” if the UK should press ahead with a plan to scrap parts of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol.
“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,” the EU’s top official in charge of UK relations, Maros Sefcovic, was cited as saying by The Daily Telegraph.
The Foreign Secretary conceded on Tuesday that the proposed law would contain an “explicit” override clause, signifying that it can be immediately replaced if an agreement is reached with the European Commission. Truss also emphasised that negotiations with the EU would continue “in parallel” with the passage of the legislation through the Commons.
According to sources cited by The Telegraph, Brussels will probably publish its own response to the UK's move after the legislation is announced by Boris Johnson’s government at the beginning of next month.
The EU is expected to respond with “full force”, added insiders.
“Johnson has distracted voters for another month from the cost of living crisis, economic troubles, his stalled migration approach and the lingering ‘partygate’. Every time Johnson needs to play to the gallery, he puts Brexit back on the agenda ... Why should we be the ones to light it for him as well?” an EU diplomat reportedly asked.
Talks over the NI protocol
are expected to resume between Truss and Sefcovic as early as next week.