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UK presses on with Brexit rules rewrite, EU calls it illegal

LONDON (AP) – Britain is ramping up a feud with the European Union (EU) by pressing on with a plan to rip up parts of the post-Brexit trade deal it signed with the bloc.

Legislation that rewrites trade rules for Northern Ireland is scheduled to get its first major House of Commons debate, the first step on what could be a rocky journey through Parliament.

The legislation, if approved by lawmakers, would remove checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, thereby scrapping parts of a trade treaty that Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed before Britain left the EU in 2020.

The British government said the rules are burdening businesses and undermining peace in Northern Ireland. It argues the unilateral move is justified under international law because of the “genuinely exceptional situation”.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said on Sunday that the aim was to “fix”, rather than throw out, the trade agreement, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Johnson’s opponents, however, said the move is illegal and will shred Britain’s international reputation. It is also causing concern among some of the Prime Minister’s fellow Conservatives, already worried about Johnson’s judgement – and popularity – following a series of ethics scandals and two special election defeats.

The EU has threatened to retaliate, raising the spectre of a trade war between the two major economic partners.

The bloc’s ambassador to Britain Joao Vale de Almeida said Britain’s plan was “illegal because it is a breach of international law, a breach of EU law, UK law and international law”.

“It is a treaty that we signed, ratified and even went through a general election in this country,” he told Times Radio.

Demonstrators protest outside Hillsborough Castle, ahead of a visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland. PHOTO: AP