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EU retaliatory action seen as inevitable after Tories' 'reckless' action

Sinn Féin Brexit spokesman Declan Kearney said the EU had been given little choice but to commence legal action. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

NATIONALISTS last night gave a muted response to the EU's retaliatory legal action against the UK, insisting it was "inevitable" and "predictable" in the face of clear provocation.

As expected, Brussels resumed existing infringement proceedings and launched fresh legal action against the UK in retaliation for Boris Johnson's plans to unilaterally scrap parts of the Withdrawal Agreement annexe.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said the UK's move had "no legal or political justification".

There was criticism of the Tories' plan from former Treasury solicitor and permanent secretary of the government legal department Sir Jonathan Jones, who described the bill as the "most extraordinary pieces of legislation I have ever seen".

"How can an agreement willingly entered into only in 2020, at what the prime minister described as a 'fantastic moment', be already proving so disastrous as to represent 'grave peril' to the country?" he wrote on PoliticsHome.

Sinn Féin Brexit spokesperson Declan Kearney said the EU had little choice given what he termed the British government's "reckless unilateral actions".

"The unilateral actions of the Johnson administration are an act of bad faith that have not only caused deep mistrust with international partners but have raised significant worry and stress across the business community here in the north," the South Antrim MLA said.

"I am encouraging both parties to fully engage with the joint committee, this is the best way to iron out the outstanding issues of the protocol and give certainty to workers farmers, and business."

His SDLP counterpart Matthew O'Toole described Brussels' action as a "predictable response" and he urged British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to reengage with the European Union rather than pursuing a "divisive and illegal plan to disapply the Northern Ireland Protocol".

"There is no one in Northern Ireland whose life has been made easier by the cynical skirmishes that the UK government is setting up with the European Commission," the South Belfast MLA said.

"Abusing the delicate and sensitive balance of the political settlement here in order to create political wedge issues for selfish gain is unforgivable."

DUP MP Gavin Robinson said the EU's action relating to the suspended grace periods demonstrated that "Maros Sefcovic’s actions are not driven by Northern Ireland’s best interests but rather what suits Brussels’ interests".

"Rather than take vindictive legal actions, the European Union would be better to recognise that the protocol is rejected by every unionist MLA and is undermining everything the Belfast Agreement and its successors sought to achieve," he said.

"Progress is made in Northern Ireland by building consensus not by foisting a flawed protocol on people who don’t want it."

Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Reg Empey said the EU action was "deeply disappointing".

He called for immediate talks between the UK and EU.

“It is no longer acceptable for Northern Ireland and its businesses and consumers to be left in the middle as the EU argues with the UK," he said.

"We are sick, sore and tired of others making decisions on our future without us being there. Let them come to Stormont and sit down with us face to face and settle this."

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