Prime Minister Johnson recently announced his intention to have his government introduce domestic legislation that would rewrite provisions of the “landmark agreement” with the European Union. The announcement brought a significant sense of surprise within the British Isles and beyond, as the proposed legislation would change the treatment of trade to and from Northern Ireland. The proposal prompted the head of the government’s legal department, Jonathan Jones, to immediately tender his resignation. Reports from within Downing Street point toward fundamental disagreements about the proposed legislation and its impact on the United Kingdom’s foreign policy interests, especially its apparent willingness to renege on ratified international treaties. The move, which comes as the specter of further negotiations with Brussels and increased COVID-19 restrictions loom large, forced European officials to intervene and hold emergency meetings regarding the ramifications and legal options. 

Analysis of the situation: Even as Mr. Johnson argues that the move will bolster the negotiation stance of the U.K. with Brussels and give the region a safety net, it brings forth serious questions about the legality of the legislation and the future ability of the U.K. to negotiate international agreements in good faith. 

Supporters and opponents alike have criticized the proposal. Even Mr. Johnson’s Conservative predecessor Theresa May denounced the move. “How can the government reassure future international partners that the U.K. can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?” she said

The Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin has also questioned the move, instead urging the U.K. to undertake a course of action that would “restore trust and give meaningful reassurance to European negotiators.”

European leaders raised grave concerns regarding the ability to further engage in negotiators with the U.K. regarding Brexit. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, warned Britain that a future trade agreement depended on it carrying out this one. The European Commission further called the proposed plans a “clear breach” of the Withdrawal Agreement that Mr. Johnson and Ms. May had recently negotiated and insisted on the withdrawal of the “internal market provisions.”

Former Vice-President and current Democratic Presidential Nominee Joseph R. Biden, as well as other Democratic Congressional leaders, worried that changes to the treatment of Northern Ireland would jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which ended most of the violence of The Troubles. 

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