Against London-Brussels for the Northern Ireland Protocol


London: Thanasis Gavos

Tensions between London and Brussels are escalating again, with warnings and accusations from both sides, over the emerging intention of the British government to proceed with the unilateral abolition of the Northern Ireland Protocol included in the Brexit agreement.

The protocol has created the obligation to control products moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in order to protect the EU single market and prevent the re-establishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Unionists in Northern Ireland complain that these controls undermine their country’s position in the United Kingdom. For the time being, they refuse to agree to the formation of a local government after last week’s elections unless the protocol is “corrected”.

The British government and Boris Johnson also claim that the protocol is not operational and are calling for changes, despite the fact that it is an agreement signed by the British Prime Minister.

On Tuesday night, Foreign Minister Liz Trass completely rejected the EU’s proposals for a compromise solution. “EU proposals fail to address the real issues affecting Northern Ireland and in some cases take us back. Prices have risen, trade is badly disrupted and the people of Northern Ireland are subject to different laws and taxes than we are on the other side of the Irish Sea, which has left them without a government and a threat to peace and stability. The answer can not be more checks, documents and disruption. “Our preference has always been a negotiated solution, but we will not hesitate to take action to stabilize the situation in Northern Ireland if no solution can be found.”

According to a Times article, the minister did not live up to this warning, but has also already instructed officials to draft a law that would unilaterally abolish controls on products crossing the Irish Sea. The law will also end the role of the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland and allow businesses there to stop following EU regulations.

In fact, the bill is believed to be ready for presentation in the House of Commons next Tuesday.

The EU response, however, is also strong. Negotiating with the British government, Commission Vice-President Maros Seftsovich clarified that “the protocol, as a cornerstone of the (EU) withdrawal agreement, is an international agreement and renegotiation is not an option”.

In a telephone conversation with his Irish counterpart Michal Martin on Tuesday, Prime Minister Johnson said the balance of the Good Friday Peace Accord was being “undermined” by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is “unsustainable” in its current form. He added that the British government would take action if no solution could be found.

German Chancellor Olaf Soltz also took a stand, saying that “no one should unilaterally cancel, violate or in any way attack the settlement we have reached together.”

Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Croix also warned London that if the protocol was unilaterally canceled, the EU would cancel the entire Brexit agreement and impose tariffs on trade with Britain, essentially opening a trade war.

According to the Times, however, Boris Johnson is also expected to face internal insurgency from Conservative MPs who had opposed Brexit if he tabled a bill to unilaterally repeal the Northern Ireland Protocol.

For example, MP Simon Hor, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Northern Ireland, stated that “no honest country should act unilaterally”.


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