After voting to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum, thousands of Britons celebrated by waving their flags and chanting slogans about “taking back” control of their borders, trade, jobs, and national sovereignty. The subsequent years however, were extremely tumultuous for The United Kingdom. It took several changes in the country’s leadership, introduction and rejection of bills associated with the process of exiting the union, and continuous arguments with the European parliament to officially leave the EU in January 2020.
While the British withdrawal from the EU, otherwise known as Brexit, took place early this year, the UK was given an eleven-month transition period where they will negotiate new orders of operation with the EU. The negotiations will deal with matters pertaining to topics such as trade, immigration, aviation, and security issues. Now that the deadline is approaching, the UK government is scrambling to get their affairs in order, with a stunning new announcement that Boris Johnson is prepared to breach international law.
Beginning in 1968, The Troubles, also known as the Northern Ireland Conflict, took place between the Protestant Unionists who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, and the Roman Catholics, who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland. The conflict consisted of street-fightings, bombings, sniper attacks, and roadblocks and was close to culminating in a civil-war. It was finally in 1998 when the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland signed the Good Friday Agreement that put an end to the clashes. This allowed the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to have an open border between the two nations without passport control, custom checks, or military presence at the border. This was a major development in the history of these two nations.
Brexit, however, put the peace between these nations at jeopardy. This is because Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, which is still an EU member state. This led to many concerns that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would now need to introduce a hard border, restarting their tensions. Due to this, last October, the UK and EU signed the ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ that allowed Northern Ireland to be bound to the EU’s customs rules even after Britain leaves the EU’s single market and customs union in order to keep an open border with the Republic of Ireland.
Despite signing the ‘Withdrawal Agreement,’ Boris Johnson proposed a new law in early September. He introduced the ‘Internal Market Bill’ that allows the British parliament to “disapply” parts of the Brexit deal that was already agreed to by the EU, including the Northern Ireland deal, which directly violates international law. Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, defended this move by stating that the bill will “break international law in a very specific and limited way” and will act as a “safety net” for the unity of the four nations of the United Kingdom if no deal is ever reached with Brussels. This move sparked concerns over the potential restart of political tensions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Other British experts have heavily criticized this bill and argue that breaching international law has consequences beyond this, such as damaging the UK’s international reputation. Former Prime Minister John Major protested “if we lose our reputation for honoring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained.” Following his lead, Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, objected: “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?”
The United States Congress has already declared that they will not engage in a free-trade deal with Britain if they violate the peace agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps this will even lead to other nations that were previously going to strike a free trade agreement with Britain, reconsider because of Britain’s low-credibility with fulfilling deals.
The British government’s threat to violate the international treaty sheds a greater issue into