A fuse on a powder keg: Brexit dispute over Northern Ireland escalates


03 February 2022 – 19:27 Clock

Belfast/Brussels/London (dpa) – The dispute over Brexit special rules for Northern Ireland is endangering stability in the British part of the country. The negotiations between Brussels and London are threatened with a severe setback and the end of the regional government in Belfast.

According to observers, this could significantly exacerbate the tense situation in the former civil war region. The ruling Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which received backing from the British government, is primarily responsible for the explosive development. The EU Commission and neighboring EU member Ireland were appalled by the advance.

Prime Minister Givan gives up his position

In protest against the Brexit regulations, the DUP announced on Wednesday that it wanted to stop the customs controls on British imports agreed with the EU. According to the EU Commission on Thursday evening, these were still carried out. Prime Minister Paul Givan of the DUP announced his resignation.

This means that the carefully balanced unity government between the Protestant-leaning DUP, which advocates union with Great Britain, and the Catholic-Republican party Sinn Fein, which is striving for reunification with Ireland, cannot continue in its current form. Sinn Fein’s equal Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill must also step down.

Beware of street violence

The consequences are unforeseeable. Observers fear a phase in which the region is politically paralyzed. But the main concern is that the situation on the streets will escalate again. In recent months, supporters of the union with Great Britain have been rushing against the customs border in the Irish Sea. Masked men twice stopped a bus, chased the driver away and set the vehicles on fire. Slogans and threats could be read on many of the walls. Although the DUP criticized the violence, it added fuel to the fire: Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson has repeatedly announced that he will withdraw his ministers if London does not withdraw from the Northern Ireland Protocol, which he described as “economic madness”.

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This document, negotiated by London and Brussels in the wake of Brexit, stipulates that, unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland remains a member of the EU Customs Union and Single Market. This is intended to avoid a hard border with EU member Ireland in order to avoid new tensions and violence from the mostly Catholic advocates of reunification. However, this resulted in an intra-British customs border. Food from Great Britain is subject to controls. Loyalists fear this will weaken ties with London.

Backing for DUP plans a us London

The regulation, which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself signed, has long been a thorn in his side. This is one of the reasons why the government in London immediately signaled backing for the DUP plans. Foreign Minister Liz Truss also confirmed that stopping the Brexit controls was a matter for the Northern Irish executive. That is explosive. Because Truss is currently negotiating changes to the protocol with EU Deputy Commissioner Maros Sefcovic, also on Thursday.

“We urgently need progress,” Truss wrote on Twitter after her conversation with Sefcovic. The priority remains to maintain peace and stability in Northern Ireland. Progress is urgently needed. Talks are scheduled to continue in London next week.

“Clear breach of international law”

The EU Commission initially reacted cautiously to the DUP’s solo effort, which was criticized as an election campaign maneuver. She called on the UK government to honor its international commitments. The Chair of the Internal Market Committee in the EU Parliament, Anna Cavazzini (Greens), and the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, David McAllister (CDU), made similar statements. Irish EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness was clearer. “This is a clear breach of international law,” she told Irish broadcaster RTÉ. “This announcement has created uncertainty and unpredictability and not stability at all, so I don’t see the point of this move.”

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Even years after the peace agreement, Loyalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland are still a long way from reconciliation. Catholics and Protestants still live separately and send their children to different schools. In Belfast, “peace walls” separate neighborhoods. Just under a year ago there were new riots at this border, young people threw Molotov cocktails. Now new riots are feared.

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Source: DPA