boris outlawed, price on his head, will go to live in woods, etc

EU launches legal action against UK for breaching withdrawal agreement
Daniel Boffey, Lisa O’Carroll, Groan, Oct 1 2020

The EU has launched legal action against the UK after Boris Johnson failed to respond to Brussels’ demand that he drop legislation that would overwrite the withdrawal agreement and break international law. Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission president, announced that the UK had been put on formal notice over the internal market bill tabled by the prime minister last month. Brussels had given Johnson until the end of September to ditch the contentious clauses in the draft legislation, and Von der Leyen said the deadline had lapsed. By seeking to unilaterally change the terms of the agreement signed last year with Brussels, the UK had failed to live up to its obligations to act in “good faith,” Von der Leyen said. The former German defence minister said the UK now had a month to respond to the commission’s letter of notice, which marks the beginning of a formal infringement process. She said:

We had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft internal market bill, by the end of September. This draft bill is, by its very nature, a breach of the obligation of good faith, laid down in the withdrawal agreement. Moreover, if adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. The problematic provisions have not been removed. Therefore this morning the commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure.

The internal market bill would give ministers legal powers to override two elements of the Northern Ireland protocol, which Johnson agreed last October in order to avoid a return to a hard border in Ireland. Ministers would decide whether to notify the commission of any government subsidy decisions that could affect goods trade in Northern Ireland and whether to waive the need for export summary declarations when sending goods from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK. The two sides are examining these issues in a joint committee but the UK government has said it needs the legislation as a “safety net” should the EU act unreasonably. The commission’s letter is the start of a lengthy process that could ultimately end in the European court of justice. The EU court in Luxembourg could impose huge daily fines for continued breaches. The UK agreed to be bound by decisions of the court on cases begun before the end of the transition period on 31 December and for four years after that point. A government spokesperson said:

We will respond to the letter in due course. We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland protocol. We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market, ensure ministers can always deliver on their obligations to Northern Ireland and protect the gains from the peace process.

The infringement procedure is a common tool used by the commission against member states. Last year alone there were 800 open cases. Germany had 47 pending cases and France 34. Each procedure takes on average 35 months to complete. The EU had initially suggested the internal market bill was an impediment to the ongoing trade and security negotiations but has in recent weeks decoupled the issues. This week Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, admitted that many of the EU’s concerns would “fade away” if the joint committee was able to do its work and a wider trade deal was secured. The Irish government spokesman on European affairs, Neale Richmond, said on Thursday the move was regrettable but “absolutely the right decision.” He said:

Time is running out, but it is not too late for a trade agreement to be reached between the EU and UK; that is where the focus should be rather than on legislation like the internal market bill.

Von der Leyen said work with the UK would continue to ensure the withdrawal agreement was fully implemented by the Jan 1 deadline. she said:

We stand by our commitments.

Von der Leyen later met Micheál Martin, the Irish prime minister, for talks ahead of a summit of the 27 heads of state and government being held in Brussels to discuss foreign affairs. The commission has also said it might bring a separate action against the UK through enforcement mechanisms in the withdrawal agreement, resulting in fines or suspension of parts of a future trade deal. Talks between the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, continue over trade and security. The most likely outcome of the row over the internal market bill is that in the event of a successful negotiation, the EU will give the UK the option of leaving without a deal or dropping the legislation.

Ireland needs to press for reunification vote, says Sinn Féin
Rory Carroll, Groan, Oct 1 2020

Mary Lou McDonald greets supporters in Dublin in February.
Photo: Charles McQuillan

Ireland cannot trust an “erratic” and “dangerous” Boris Johnson on Brexit and needs to start pressuring Downing Street for a referendum on Irish unification, according to Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of Sinn Féin. Johnson has forfeited credibility by unpicking the withdrawal agreement, and cannot be believed when he says he wants a trade deal, said McDonald. She said:

He’s the prime minister and perfidious Albion just got perfidiouser, if there’s such a word. If Britain does not honour a bargain fairly struck, it will face a backlash from the EU and the US. If there is damage in Ireland, if there’s a hardening of the border, well then: all bets are off.

The Sinn Féin leader spoke to the Guardian after an opinion poll showed her opposition party to be the most popular in Ireland, with support at 32%. Recent blunders by the Fianna Fáil-led coalition government have put a question mark over its longevity and bolstered McDonald’s image as a taoiseach-in-waiting. A government led by Sinn Féin would jolt British–Irish relations. A mouthpiece for the IRA during the Troubles, it has become a mainstream, left-wing party that appeals to voters in the south of Ireland on bread-and-butter issues, especially health and housing. However, McDonald, 51, stressed its enduring determination to unite Ireland, predicting:

In my lifetime? Absolutely. All of the signposts, all of the markers, point in the direction of reunification.

By next year, the centenary of Northern Ireland’s creation, Catholics are expected to outnumber Protestants for the first time, a seismic demographic shift that comes just as Brexit has prompted some unionists to question the region’s position in the UK. McDonald, a Trinity College graduate from Dublin who succeeded Gerry Adams as party leader in 2018, said:

The electoral majority for unionism is now gone. Politics on this island has changed in ways that are profound.

McDonald said the promise of a new, progressive, inclusive Ireland, with an NHS-style health service, would win over enough voters. Under the Good Friday agreement, the UK’s Northern Ireland secretary must call a referendum when it appears likely that most people would vote in favour of a united Ireland. However, McDonald said ministers refused to spell out the exact conditions that would trigger a vote. She said:

I wouldn’t like anybody in the British system to imagine that they hold a trump card that says ‘we will forever avoid or defer a referendum in Ireland.’ They don’t have that right.

She said a united Ireland must offer unionists “the kinds of protections and assurances that they need,” for instance, a possible continued role for the Stormont assembly. She ruled out moving the capital from Dublin. Asked whether the IRA violence during the Troubles was justified, McDonald said:

I think it was inevitable. Partition and discrimination created a toxic context that framed people’s attitudes and choices.

Pressed again on whether violence was justified, she said:

I was a child at the time. I am certainly not going to be the person accountable for things that happened in 1973. I think that’s an extraordinary thing to ask of me. There will never be an agreed narrative on the Troubles. I think it’s foolish to pursue it. You’re not going to bridge that difference. The past is the past. I can’t rewrite it.

She rejected allegations that the IRA army council still existed and influenced party policy, saying:

The IRA is gone. The conflict is over. There’s a touch of misogyny about these suggestions that shadowy men are lurking behind me. It seems there are some people who find it hard to grasp that a woman from Dublin could be the leader of Sinn Féin, but I am.

After a severe Covid-19 infection in April, McDonald was floored and got pleurisy before recovering. This led to a little bright spot in British–Irish relations. She said:

Prince Charles sent me a letter, which I thought was really nice.

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