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Mostly false: Boris Johnson affirms that EU wants to block goods from entering Northern Ireland

fact checking


The UK Prime Minister wants to break international law to protect his country from a supposed “blockade” on goods by the EU. Here’s what Boris Johnson actually forgot to mention. 


The country that gave birth to the notion of “rule of law” is about to go against its own principles. The Internal Market Bill is about to breach the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, which was signed last January. An extreme interpretation of this agreement from Bojo, who himself accused the EU of using “an extreme interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol to impose a full-scale trade border down the Irish Sea”.

The protocol is part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. It defines Northern Ireland as part of the UK, but also part of the EU’s single market. This was the only solution offered by Theresa May to avoid a physical border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which would threaten the Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998. The treaty stipulated that the actual customs controls would be located on the island of England, and that all the goods going to Northern Ireland would have to pass controls on the British soil. This situation would allow the EU to keep control over its standards regarding the imported products and avoid contraband transiting by Northern Ireland. 

The EU answered these attacks that they would not block any goods from entering Northern Ireland, some goods that could be entering the rest of the EU would have to pay tariffs at customs control points. But, if the importers show afterwards that they were sold only on the UK territory, they would get their money back. This would avoid any situation of fraud. 

Boris Johnson has now asserted that this agreement could threaten the integrity of the UK, as Northern Ireland would not be able to receive food. His argument relies on the various standards imposed by the EU on food and agricultural products. The EU’s response to the Prime Minister was that the UK needs to develop protocols to check the quality of its food products. As the European legislation is pretty harsh in order to protect the consumers, the UK – as it leaves the EU – has to introduce new laws to check its products and imported goods from around the world. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, declared that the UK decided to leave and that it was not the responsibility of the staying members to adapt their regulations. 

It is possible that these declarations from the prime minister are an attempt to sort of blackmail the EU in the ongoing negotiations on the future rules for accessing the single market. As the discussions are slowing down and reaching a dead end, the UK government might try to pressure the twenty-seven countries in order to avoid a no-deal situation. The major problem of this strategy, however, is that the EU has the upper hand, as their single market is stronger than a single country. 

Even the EU leader, Charles Michel, recently attacked the whole attitude of the UK government towards this agreement. He said that “respect for treaties, a basic principle of international law, comes to be considered optional even by those who, until recently, were its historical guarantors.” Boris Johnson is facing pushback as members of its own majority oppose themselves to this action that would break international law.