Brexit tensions soar over Northern Ireland

Dublin, March 4 (AFP/APP):A post-Brexit crisis over Northern Ireland deepened Thursday as Britain hit back at EU threats of legal action and pro-UK militants abandoned the restive province’s 1998 peace accord — with the painstakingly brokered EU-UK trade deal hanging in the balance.
The British government insisted it was taking “sensible and practical steps” to fix trade problems afflicting Northern Ireland since Brexit took full effect, and denied it was breaching its EU divorce treaty in the process.
But Brussels and Dublin, threatening to sue Britain over the unilateral changes announced Wednesday, complained of a betrayal of trust in another fraught development for London’s separation from the European Union.
The crisis has imperilled the overarching UK-EU trade deal with key MEPs pledging to refuse ratification unless Britain changes course.
Without prior agreement with the EU, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said it was extending a post-Brexit grace period and deferring checks on agri-foods entering Northern Ireland from Britain, undermining a key plank of the divorce pact.
“If the UK simply cannot be trusted because they take unilateral action in an unexpected way without negotiation, well then the British government leaves the EU with no option” than legal action, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told RTE radio on Thursday.
German MEP Bernd Lange, the head of the European Parliament’s trade committee, said on Twitter Brussels lawmakers would vote down the deal if the Brexit divorce deal was broken.
“Still valid,” Bernd wrote, pointing to a previous statement that said any violation, or threat to violate, the divorce terms would mean a rejection of the trade bill.
Meanwhile London faced pressure from the other side of the fractious debate after pro-UK paramilitaries said Wednesday they were abandoning support for Northern Ireland’s 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, insisting on the need to rip up the EU deal entirely.
The Loyalist Communities Council emphasised that unionist opposition to the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol should remain “peaceful and democratic”.
But after previous threats were levelled against EU customs officials in Northern Ireland, Downing Street said it was working with the territory’s police force to investigate fresh threats made against senior minister Michael Gove.
The council’s announcement offered more evidence that Northern Ireland’s delicate balance of peace is being destabilised as a result of Brexit, with unionists furious over new border checks that they say are separating them by stealth from the rest of the UK.

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