Ireland would find itself in a “very challenging situation” if the UK were to breach international law, the Justice Minister has said.
Helen McEntee made the comments when asked about the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill, which has overruled certain parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU last year.
This month the European Commission began legal action against the UK over elements of the legislation which it says undermined the “good faith” provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the Bill and would be “in full contradiction” of and “flagrantly violate” the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Speaking at the Justice Committee on Tuesday, Ms McEntee said the UK had made commitments to additional checks with Northern Ireland under the protocol, which would protect the EU’s Single Market.
She said people would be “shocked and surprised” if the UK were to breach those commitments.
The minister told the committee: “Obviously we know that the first stage of the Internal Market Bill has been progressed and if it is implemented and we do find ourselves in that situation – it’s not something that’s being prepared for within my own department – but I do think we would find ourselves in a very challenging situation if the UK were to breach international law and if they were to breach an international agreement.
“We know that there are already checks on a certain amount of goods coming from in from the UK through Northern Ireland and into the south. That would not change even if this were to be implemented.
“However, what’s required under the Northern Ireland Protocol is that there would be additional checks required to ensure the integrity of the Single Market. It’s unfortunately not legislation that I’m working on within our department but it’s something that we would have to look at I’m sure, absolutely.
“There is an obligation and I think we would all be very shocked and surprised if the UK were to breach the commitment that they have made and their international obligations in this regard.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol, which forms part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, is designed to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Part of its solution to this problem is to keep Northern Ireland in the Single Market for goods, unlike the rest of the UK, creating new checks for trade across the Irish sea.
How these checks are implemented is still being negotiated at a joint committee between the UK and the EU.
While the UK has not stated its intention not to comply with these checks, the Internal Market Bill – if implemented – would give their ministers the power to overrule them, which would breach the internationally binding agreement reached last year.