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UK vows to ‘remove’ EU court from Northern Ireland Brexit protocol

LONDON — The U.K. pledged to “remove” the EU’s top court from its role in settling key post-Brexit disputes as it unveiled a unilateral plan to amend the Northern Ireland protocol.

The U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office presented a bill in the House of Commons Monday which, if passed, would allow British ministers to switch off parts of the protocol, a key part of the Brexit divorce deal which has prompted months of disagreement between London and Brussels.

Under the protocol, disputes over trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland can be taken to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the ultimate arbiter in disagreements over the EU’s single market, of which Northern Ireland remains a part post-Brexit.

The U.K. is proposing to instead settle disputes through “independent arbitration,” according to a Foreign Office document published Monday. British courts could still refer questions on the interpretation of the EU law to the CJEU.

The provisions in the bill would “deal with the protocol’s unequal governance, removing the role of the CJEU in dispute settlement and providing the means for U.K. authorities and courts to set out the arrangements which apply in Northern Ireland,” the Foreign Office said.

The CJEU’s role has been a key sticking point among Conservative Brexiteers and Northern Ireland’s unionist politicians, who see the protocol as disruptive to trade and believe it weakens ties between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The EU counters that the protocol — which introduces customs and sanitary controls on British goods arriving at Northern Ireland’s ports — is needed to preserve peace on the Ireland of Ireland while protecting the bloc’s single market.

The bill fleshes out other unilateral proposals pitched by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in previous weeks, including the creation of a new dual regulatory regime, allowing businesses to produce goods to either EU or British standards, and a frictionless “green lane” for trusted British traders moving goods into Northern Ireland that aren’t intended for the EU single market.

That will be coupled with a “red lane,” maintaining full checks and customs controls for goods destined for the EU.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday downplayed the prospect of a trade war with the EU over the new law, telling broadcasters the bill is “not a big deal.” But Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney warned Truss by phone that the plan “marks a particular low point in the U.K.’s approach to Brexit,” according to a readout from the Irish government.

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