The British government is pushing ahead with its Northern Ireland Protocol Bill despite opposition from imperialist powers on both sides of the Atlantic. None of the potential candidates to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and prime minister have distanced themselves from legislation repeatedly denounced as breaking international law.

The bill removes all restrictions on trade between Northern Ireland and Britain, except for checks on goods destined for the Republic of Ireland. It allows the UK government to change state aid, tax rules and standards independently of the European Union and ends the authority of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in disputes between the EU and the UK. Designed to appeal to the more die-hard Brexiteers within the Conservative Party and Northern Ireland Unionist parties, the bill calls into question key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, reached there only three years ago, and threatens to undermine the framework of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. the sharing of power after decades of “Troubles”.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss visits local businesses in Belfast, Northern Ireland to discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol, May 25, 2022 [Photo by Simon Worth / FCDO / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]

Brexit was an attempt to undermine rivals to British imperialism by removing restrictions on profitability tied to EU membership, instead seeking global trade deals and stepping up the assault on the working class.

The ‘hard’ Brexit negotiated by the Johnson government put the UK outside the EU single market and, in one fell swoop, transformed the dividing line brutally imposed on Ireland by British imperialism into 1921 in an external border of the EU. The protocol component of the Brexit deal, aimed at avoiding a border with Ireland itself, which would breach the Good Friday Agreement, has allowed Northern Ireland to remain in the EU’s single market. EU but in doing so imposed customs controls at the Irish Sea border with Britain.

The government undoubtedly negotiated this with the intention of returning to it as soon as possible, relying on the outrage of its close allies in the hard-right Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and their paramilitary loyalist extensions to force the question. The DUP is currently refusing to allow the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly to be reactivated, pending the abolition of the protocol, while stoking sectarian tensions. Recent July 12 “celebrations” have seen Irish nationalist politicians burned in effigy on loyalist bonfires.

The bill has infuriated UK allies and rivals in the US and EU. Shortly after its publication, the European Commission (EC) launched an “infringement procedure” against the United Kingdom for its failure to comply with significant parts of the protocol. EC Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said: “Let there be no doubt: there is no legal or political justification for unilaterally changing an international agreement. The EC cited a range of infringements – legal proceedings were ongoing, revived or prepared – including cases brought before the ECJ concerning border post personnel and commercial data.

The Biden administration has repeatedly made clear that it opposes unilateral moves against the protocol as destabilizing. American corporations have trillions of dollars invested and are headquartered in the Republic. Moreover, Washington considers the tensions between the main allies in NATO’s war against Russia to be dangerous.

These issues have caused infighting within the Conservative Party, revealed when the Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on June 27 by Foreign Secretary and far-right Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss. .

Former Prime Minister Theresa May, who was ousted in 2019 by Brexiteers and replaced by Johnson, complained that the bill “is not legal under international law, will not achieve its aims and will diminish the position of the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world.” She wondered if Truss would achieve his stated goal of encouraging the DUP to return to power-sharing.

Tory MP Simon Hoare, chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster, also opposed it, as did former Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith.

Labour’s David Lammy, shadow secretary of state for foreign affairs, attacked the bill because it threatened to undermine NATO’s war on Russia. “The precedent he is setting is dangerous and the timing could hardly be worse,” he warned. “It divides the UK and the European Union at a time when we should be sticking together against Putin’s war on the Continent, and it risks creating new trade barriers during a cost of living crisis. .”

Citing his own connections to US imperialism, Lammy complained: “I have been to Washington three times in the past six months, and I can say that across political divides, Republicans and Democrats have raised the issue. When I last visited, they were appalled; they had not seen the contents of the bill at this stage, but they were appalled by the proposal.

Despite the alarms, the second reading of the bill passed with a majority of 74 votes. The bill is currently going through its stages in committee.

On July 3, the German government weighed in with an unprecedented joint statement from Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens and her Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney, warning that the bill would deepen divisions with Europe.

According to the duo, “there is no legal or political justification for unilaterally breaking an international agreement reached only two years ago. Introducing a bill will not solve the protocol problems. Instead, it will create a new set of uncertainties and make it more difficult to find lasting solutions.

Baerbock and Coveney noted that 52 of the 90 members of the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly, Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labor Party and the Alliance Party, support the protocol.

Baerbock and Coveney’s main concern was also that the British position was undermining the war against Russia. “In these difficult times, as Russia wages a ruthless war in Ukraine, breaking with our European peace order, the EU and the UK must come together as partners who share values ​​and commit to maintaining and strengthen the rules-based international order.”

Baerbock’s concern for “peace” in Europe and rules in international relations is such that the German government is currently embarking on the biggest rearmament since the Nazi era with a special fund of 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr, to spend on the most modern weaponry, while older weapon systems are dumped in Ukraine. The Irish government, for its part, is moving ever closer to NATO membership, recently announcing an increase in military spending to at least €1.9 billion a year and preparing to recruit 6,000 additional soldiers.

The protocol dispute confirms that Brexit was only an expression of deepening tensions between the imperialist powers. Although the UK, EU and US are currently allied against Russia, tensions between British imperialism and its rivals over Ireland date back hundreds of years. The island has always been the back door through which European powers have sought to exert influence against Britain and is now economically dominated by the United States, while British imperialism has clung to its last front. – colonial post in the six counties of Northern Ireland to retain influence and prevent revolutionary threats emanating from across the island. Only the prospect of a unified socialist Ireland within the framework of a united socialist Europe, organized by the working class of the continent, offers a progressive path.