UK and EU are closer to starting a trade war. After the divorce, the relations between both parties have gone through different phases. But now they meet at the point of greatest tension in the face of threats from the British government to unilaterally break key parts of the Brexit agreement, hiding behind protecting the peace in Ulster.
The State Attorney General, Suella Braverman -whose role is to advise the Government legally- has given her approval for Downing Street to revoke fundamental parts of the so-called Ireland Protocol, defending that the interpretation that Brussels is now making of the new customs controls that must be applied to the goods that are marketed between the UK and Northern Ireland is “disproportionate and unreasonable”.
The Irish Protocol was always the great stumbling block in the Brexit negotiations and in Westminster it was always said that Boris Johnson never intended to comply with what was agreed with the EU. The fact of leaving the British province of Northern Ireland with a different status from the rest of the United Kingdom predicted tensions between Catholics and Protestants. And the predictions have come true. The historic triumph of Sinn Fein Republicans in last week’s Belfast Assembly elections has created a political crisis. The unionists of the DUP now refuse to form a coalition government – which both communities must respect – until the Protocol is modified.
Therefore, the argument that Downing Street is now using is that it would be legal to invalidate some provisions of the Protocol, since they threaten stability in Northern Ireland and the peace signed between Catholics and Protestants in 1998 must take precedence over the agreement with the EU.
Everything indicates that next week the Johnson Executive – which has an absolute majority – will present a bill in the House of Commons to carry out its threats.
If the United Kingdom decided to act unilaterally, Brussels could reactivate the legal process it had initiated against the Internal Market Law, which was suspended in July last year. It could also impose tariffs on British products, threatening to start a trade war between the two sides, and even completely suspend the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that sets the terms on which the United Kingdom left the bloc.
The Foreign Minister, Liz Truss, yesterday had a tense telephone conversation with the community vice president, Maros Sefcovic, where she warned that her government “will have no choice but to act” if the bloc does not show “the necessary flexibility” to improve the situation.
The EU has already offered to remove up to 80% of controls on food arriving in Northern Ireland, in addition to halving the necessary paperwork, but Downing Street argues that this is not enough.
The aggressiveness of the person in charge of British diplomacy is even creating divisions within the Conservative Executive’s Cabinet itself. In the midst of the economic crisis due to the rise in the cost of living, some ministers, such as the head of the Treasury, Rishi Sunak, consider that it is not exactly the best time to play the hell. But Truss is playing his particular inside game by positioning his leadership on the far right side of the party in case Johnson is ultimately forced to resign over the Partygate scandal.
The European Commission considers that unilateral action by the United Kingdom “is simply not acceptable”. “I am convinced that only joint solutions will work,” Sefcovic said in a statement. “In February, we proposed to the UK Government an ambitious timetable for intensive discussions on the outstanding practical issues raised by people and businesses in Northern Ireland. We have made it clear that there is still potential to explore in our proposals. We are still waiting for a response from London”, he adds. He underlined that the UK and the EU are “partners facing the same global challenges where upholding the rule of law and meeting international obligations is a must”.
Washington, which was heavily involved in the 1998 peace negotiations between Catholics and Protestants, is now closely watching what is happening in Northern Ireland. Joe Biden, who in his day was very critical of Brexit, considers that if London finally takes unilateral action it would be a provocation. The American president has always spoken proudly of his Irish roots and on more than one occasion has warned Downing Street that failure to comply with the Irish Protocol would have repercussions for a future trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States. Amid nervousness over the consequences for transatlantic relations, the British government has sent Conor Burns, a Belfast-born Catholic Secretary of State, to the United States in an attempt to counter the powerful Irish government lobby close to the administration. North American.