Britain’s top business lobby has slammed Boris Johnson’s government for Brexit “magnanimity” and warned its plan to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol is hurting investment.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has urged the government to resume talks with the EU as ministers prepare to table legislation to unilaterally amend the protocol.
“I don’t think it’s time to pose; I think it’s time for a deal,” said CBI Director General Tony Danker.
The head of economics adds: “I am firmly convinced that the Europeans are inflexible. At the same time, our actions…to take unilateral action is not helpful.”
Mr Danker warned that the dispute has already caused many countries to reconsider investments. “We are currently seeing global companies shorting the UK,” he said.
The CBI chief warned: “You look at the UK and you think [there is a] Combination of a bit of Brexit worry again, some of those numbers from the OECD, and we’re seeing global companies thinking, ‘Maybe not the UK to invest in right now.’”
A bill introduced by Secretary of State Liz Truss to unilaterally amend the protocol will be introduced in Parliament Monday amid controversy over whether the legislation will violate international law.
Mr Johnson has dismissed the excitement over the plan to take unilateral action on Monday to abandon protocol checks – saying it was “no big deal”.
“We just have to fix that. It’s relatively simple, it’s a bureaucratic change that needs to be made,” the Prime Minister told LBC. “It’s a relatively trivial set of adjustments in the grand scheme of things.”
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the protocol agreements posed a “serious threat” to the Good Friday Agreement, before claiming it was up to the UK government to “interpret” the protocol as it saw fit.
“We need to be clear fundamentally about what the Protocol means, how it should be interpreted – only the UK can do that,” he told Sky News on Monday.
There is likely to be opposition within the Tory ranks as a number of MPs are believed to be unhappy with the legislation.
That financial times reported that an internal memo was circulating among opponents of the bill, which said: “Breaking international law to tear up the Prime Minister’s treaty harms everything the UK and Conservatives stand for.”
The legislation will give ministers the power to override elements of the protocol agreed jointly with the EU as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
The arrangements instead require government controls and customs declarations for goods moving between the UK and NI. It could also be the case that companies in NI will be given the opportunity to choose whether to comply with UK or EU regulations, depending on who they trade with.
The EU has made it clear that such moves violate international law and could lead to retaliatory action by the bloc.
But Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “It looks like the government is planning to break international law,” adding: “This government appears to be developing a record for breaking the law.”
Downing Street has said it will only share “a summary” of the legal advice it has received with the public, prompting allegations of a “cover-up”.
Liberal Democrat spokesman in Northern Ireland Alistair Carmichael said the public deserved “full transparency” about the legal basis of the plan and warned he suspected a “cover-up”.