Dialogue of the deaf: the EU will make the Northern Ireland protocol more flexible but London sees it insufficient

Relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom after the Brexit have become a authentic deaf dialogue. All attempts at conciliation fail. After criticism and pressure from London, Brussels gives in and has agreed to relax the protocol on Northern Ireland and reduce controls and bureaucracy for goods traveling from the island of Great Britain to Ulster. But even before knowing the detailed measures, the Government of Boris Johnson He has already said that they seem insufficient to him and he claims to completely scrap the protocol.

The confrontation between the EU and the United Kingdom threatens lead to an open trade war when the recovery after the Covid-19 crisis has not yet been consolidated. London has already threatened to stop applying the protocol unilaterally if Brussels does not fully renegotiate it. For its part, the European Commission is preparing to activate an arsenal of tariff surcharges against British products in retaliation.

The protocol on Northern Ireland is part of the divorce agreement of the Brexit. To protect the peace in Ulster and avoid a border that divides the island, Brussels and London agreed a special status for Northern Ireland, which remains linked to the rules of the internal market in the EU. That means that, in practice, the border has shifted to the Irish Sea, with new customs controls on products arriving in Northern Ireland ports from the island of Great Britain. The new border has in particular enraged Northern Irish unionists, who denounce that it endangers the country’s territorial integrity.

“I have listened and engaged with all parties in Northern Ireland. Today’s proposals are a genuine response to their concerns. We have put a lot of work into them to bring about visible change on the ground,” said the Vice-President of the Commission. responsible for negotiating with London, Maros Sefcovic, when presenting the latest package of measures this Wednesday.

In particular, Brussels proposes an à la carte solution for Northern Ireland on phytosanitary and animal health issues, the result of which will be a 80% reduction in controls of a large number of products from Great Britain to be consumed in Northern Ireland. The main condition is that these goods must bear a label indicating that they can only be sold on British territory and in no case enter the single European market.

The Community Executive It will also make customs procedures more flexible in order to facilitate the movement of products between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In return, it demands that London give it full, real-time access to its computer control systems. With this solution, Brussels hopes to cut red tape for companies by 50%.

Finally, the EU will launch a special regime to also facilitate the free movement of drugs and a system for consulting and exchanging information with the Northern Irish authorities on the practical application of the protocol.

For the Boris Johnson government, all these gestures of goodwill on the part of Brussels are insufficient. And that despite the fact that it was Johnson himself who negotiated and signed the protocol on Northern Ireland in October 2019, presented it as a trophy in an early election that he won and then achieved its ratification in the British Parliament. Now he says that he accepted it under pressure from the EU and to achieve his primary objective, which was the Brexit.

The British negotiator, David Frost, delivered an aggressive speech this Tuesday in Lisbon (a scene chosen for considering Portugal as its oldest ally) in which he accused the EU of abusing the protocol. “There is a general feeling in the UK that the EU tried to use Northern Ireland to encourage British political forces to reverse the referendum result, or at least to stay closely aligned with the EU, “he said.

“The protocol represents a moment of abuse by the EU when the UK had its bargaining hands tied and therefore cannot hold itself in its current form “, assures Frost. London demands to start a new protocol from scratch and to wrest the role of arbitrator in any dispute from the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). An absolute red line for Brussels.

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