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Britain Moves Ahead With Plans to Scrap Trade Rules on Northern Ireland

LONDON — Britain moved ahead on Monday with plans to scuttle the post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland, risking a clash with the European Union, a rift with neighboring Ireland, and tensions with the United States.

But the long-anticipated legislation, which would unilaterally drop border checks on goods flowing from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland, may be most revealing for what it says about the altered political landscape since Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a no-confidence vote in his Conservative Party last week.

Mr. Johnson faces a tricky path pushing the legislation through a Parliament emboldened by the revolt against him. Some of the rebels from his party are threatening to oppose the bill, contending that it violates international law.

He accepted a more aggressive approach championed by his foreign secretary, Liz Truss. She, analysts say, is burnishing her credentials with hard-line Brexiteers in the party for a possible future leadership challenge against Mr. Johnson.

For legislation that has such wide-ranging international repercussions for Britain, it is remarkable how much it has been colored by domestic politics. But successive British governments have long viewed Northern Ireland through a primarily domestic lens, and none more so than Mr. Johnson’s.

“It’s all about this fight inside the Tory Party,” said Jonathan Powell, a former chief of staff to Tony Blair, the former prime minister, who worked extensively on Northern Ireland. “They’re putting the interests of one man ahead of the interests of peace in Northern Ireland, and the interests of our relations with the E.U. and the U.S.”

British officials argue that the legislation is necessary to fix disruptions to trade that resulted from its complex agreement with Brussels on Northern Ireland, which is a member of the United Kingdom but shares an open border with neighboring Ireland, which is part of the European Union.

To keep the border open, Mr. Johnson had accepted checks on goods flowing from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland. But the arrangement, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, alienated the main pro-unionist party in the North, which has refused to take part in a power-sharing government until Britain overhauls it.

Under the legislation due to be presented to Parliament by Ms. Truss on Monday afternoon, goods would be divided into green and red lanes. Those bound for Northern Ireland from Britain would no longer undergo checks, while those bound for the Irish Republic would be in the red lane and would be subject to checks.

The legislation would also no longer recognize the authority of the European Court of Justice to settle disputes, a key bone of contention in months of negotiations between London and Brussels to revamp parts of the protocol.

Having failed to work out a compromise, Britain is essentially saying it will no longer abide by the terms of the agreement. Its unilateral approach has been condemned by the European Commission and the Irish government and has drawn warnings from the Biden administration. The United States fears that it could jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

“Unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust & a formula for uncertainty,” Maros Sefcovic, a vice president of the European Commission, who has led negotiations with Britain on the protocol, said on Twitter after Ms. Truss informed him of the government’s intention to propose the legislation.

Mr. Johnson denied that the legislation violated international law, arguing that, far from undercutting the peace agreement, Britain was meeting its higher legal obligation of preserving it. Speaking before the government’s presentation of the legislation, he tried to play down its significance.

“It’s a bureaucratic change that needs to be made,” the prime minister said in an interview with LBC, a British radio broadcaster. “Frankly, it’s a relatively trivial set of adjustments in the grand scheme of things.”

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