During the long and arduous Brexit negotiations, the objective was always to agree on an orderly separation that ensure good harmony between London and Brussels. And yet, the much-feared trade war could now be inevitable because just 18 months after the historic divorce was consummated for all practical purposes, Downing Street wants to violate the agreement reached with the EU.
The British Government has just fulfilled its threats by presenting in the House of Commons the bill with which it wants to change, unilaterally, the so-called Protocol for Northern Ireland, considered the Holy Grail of the pact sealed with the bloc.
After Brexit, the British province has been given a different status from the rest of the United Kingdom in order to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, an essential requirement to seal the peace between Catholics and Protestants in 1998. But that now requires customs controls to be carried out on goods exchanged with Great Britain. London argues that the new bureaucratic burden -which to date has not been fully implemented- is not only causing a shortage of products but is also creating political tensions between the two communities.
Hence you want to implement now dthe types of runners. One green, exempt from controls, for goods from Great Britain that remain in Northern Ireland and do not cross into the Republic of Ireland (single European market). Y a red one for all other shipments.
Also, he wants the quality standards imposed in Northern Ireland are the British, and not those of the EU. And he wants more tax flexibility, so that any VAT changes he applies to Britain will also apply to Northern Ireland. This fully affects thelevel-playing field”, issues of competition and regulatory convergence, which were always wanted to be avoided during the long divorce negotiations.
Finally, the supervision of the Court of Justice of the EU as an arbitration mechanism is eliminated – which is a red line for Brussels – and instead leave the final judgment on trade disputes to British courts which are given new powers.
Johnson argues that it is just “trivial adjustments in the larger context” of the situation and explained that fixing bugs is a mere “bureaucratic change” and it is “relatively easy” to do so. In this sense, he stressed that it would be “a great exaggeration” if Brussels reacts by instigating a trade war and said that what it is trying to do is “simplify things to remove barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
At first, the “premier” did not want to go that far. But, after his leadership was completely questioned after the confidence motion presented last week, he is now willing to give in to the demands of the hard core eurosceptic from its ranks in order to prevent a new rebellion.
The person responsible for presenting the bill yesterday in the House of Commons was the Foreign Minister, Liz Truss, leading the new negotiations with Brussels. in his day, voted for the UK to remain in the EU, but has now gone to the opposite extreme in order to please the `brexiteers´ and position themselves in the event of possible primaries within the Conservative Party. The particular `Game of Thrones´ that is experienced in training must always be taken into account when analyzing the tensions with Brussels.
In a highly divided parliamentary group, what pleases some infuriates others, and an important sector of the moderate ‘tories’ has already announced that they will vote against because it considers that the proposed legislation is “harmful to everything that the United Kingdom and the Conservatives represent”, “toxic for the swing voters on whom the union of the country depends” and “It violates international law.”
The Attorney General of the State, Suella Bravermanwho is a member of the Cabinet, argues that the actions are justified because, above all, the peace in Ulster must be protected. And in this sense, he clings to the situation that is now being experienced in the Belfast Parliament.
After the historic victory of the Catholics of Sinn Fein in the last autonomous elections in May, the protestants of the DUP now refuse to form a coalition government that both communities must respect by the 1998 peace agreement. The unionists feel betrayed by Johnson for having left Northern Ireland more aligned with the Dublin regulations than with those of London and they are not willing to unblock the political crisis until the new customs controls are changed.
The problem is that, despite the seriousness of the situation, an opinion has not been asked of Sir James Edie, the government’s independent attorney on legal issues of national importance. And, according to the British press, this figure indicated that “It would be very difficult for the UK to argue that it is not breaking international law if it goes ahead with some of the moves that are being considered.”
The EU’s reaction
The European Commission will reactivate the judicial process against the United Kingdom for violating the provisions of the protocol for Northern Ireland negotiated between the parties to mitigate the impact of Brexit in Ulster, after Boris Johnson’s government formally presented a law on Monday that in practice unilaterally suspends the pact.
“The Commission will consider continuing the infringement procedure opened in March 2021 against the UK Government. We suspended that action in a constructive spirit of cooperation to give space to the search for joint solutions, but the unilateral action of the United Kingdom goes directly against it”, said from Brussels the vice president of the Community Executive responsible for relations with the United Kingdom, Maros Sefkovic.
EU-UK relationship must be based on the full respect of our legally binding commitments.
My statement to the UK government’s decision to table legislation disapplying core elements of the Protocol on IE/NI 👉 https://t.co/lLy2sdZdFa. pic.twitter.com/gjTXD7YYHv
— Maroš Šefčovič🇪🇺 (@MarosSefcovic) June 13, 2022
Brussels initiated this first sanctioning file against the United Kingdom when verifying the first British breaches of the protocol, but months later it chose to paralyze the process in favor of a negotiated solution, without any tangible results since then.
Hours before, the EU had already warned that it did not rule out taking legal action. Sefcović warned that the British intentions to stop applying the Protocol is “a formula for uncertainty” and it will be “damaging to common trust”.
Spoke to @trussliz earlier where she informed me of 🇬🇧legislation to unilaterally disapply the Protocol. The EU has always paid utmost attention to the impact Brexit has on NI, offering workable solutions. Unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust & a formula for uncertainty. pic.twitter.com/CWqFSxy0GC
— Maroš Šefčovič🇪🇺 (@MarosSefcovic) June 13, 2022
Sefcovic insists that the EU “has always paid the utmost attention” to the impact that Brexit has on Northern Ireland and “has offered functional solutions”, after a Downing Street spokesman accused Brussels last Thursday of not having responded. to your invitation to resume negotiations.