LondonThe just-published diaries of Michel Barnier, the European Union (EU) chief negotiator for the Brexit divorce, maintain, in general terms, that the British negotiating team that between 2017 and 2019 went to the meetings in which the terms of the separation, he was very poorly prepared. In short, Barnier claims that the other party lacked a clear idea of what was at hand. The result for London has not been very encouraging. You couldn’t expect much longer with a prime minister who never pays attention to detail.
And it is not strange, either, that less than two years after the premier Boris Johnson will sign the pact with Brussels, now he wants to rewrite it. His government has demanded this Tuesday fundamental changes that affect the Northern Irish Protocol, the addition that guarantees that there would not be a hard border inside the island of Ireland to respect the Belfast Peace Accords (1998). In practice, the UK considers what was signed two years ago to be dead paper.
As a result of these pacts, Northern Ireland was within the single market for consumer goods, a fact that implied that there would be customs controls between Great Britain and the province. But Johnson has come to realize that he does not like many of the conditions he signed – and about which he lied to the British and Northern Irish unionist partners without blushing – and now blames the EU for all the evils that he and the United States do. Brexit supporters provoked.
While Johnson enjoys the holidays in Marbella despite the fact that the country has been going through a supply crisis for weeks that has not been seen since the 1970s, Brexit Minister David Frost, negotiator against Barnier, went to Lisbon this Tuesday to denounce everything that London wants to change.
In a very diplomatic and temperate but firm and boring tone – Frost is a mediocre speaker – he has issued an ultimatum in Brussels. Using the usual tactic of holding others accountable for British mistakes, Frost has said that whatever happens from now on, “it will not be our decision.”
The basic problem from the minister’s perspective is one of which Tony Blair and John Major, former Labor and Conservative first ministers, respectively, already warned during the 2016 referendum campaign. And it is that the United Kingdom has allowed, in practice , have an external border of the European Union within its own territory. A known fact also in 2019, when Johnson accepted it, although he preferred to ignore it.
The British intention is that the goods now circulating from Great Britain to Northern Ireland do not have to pass the current controls, and this will be discussed in the Commission. The lack of these controls, added Frost, “does not have to alter” the proper functioning of the Community single market. Perhaps not in practice, but in theory yes, because goods arriving in Northern Ireland could end up in the EU. That is why London also proposes an equalization of the standards, for example the sanitary ones in terms of refrigerated meats, which would allow to end the so-called war of the sausages. And so with other aspects.
If the EU does not agree to renegotiate the terms of the agreement, the United Kingdom is prepared to suspend the trade agreement signed at the end of last year – applying Article 16 – a fact that would drive the 27 and the United Kingdom into a trade war. “We will not pull down this road for free – said the minister – or with special pleasure, but our fundamental purpose as the government of Northern Ireland is to safeguard the peace.” And according to the London vision, shared by the unionism of the province, the Protocol has become toxic for this purpose.
Another of the key aspects of the British request, especially sensitive, is that so far the arbitrator of any dispute in the protocol is the European Court of Justice, again one of the clauses accepted by Johnson. So now London wants to end this legal dependency. “What does it cost the EU to establish a new protocol?” Asked Frost. “It seems to us that very little,” has been answered.
This Wednesday, Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission, will present the changes that the EU is ready for, after London already asked for them before the summer.
Despite the frustration with the British attitude, so not very serious, is the growing sentiment in Brussels, the next few weeks will open a period of negotiation, another, between the two blocks.
And this will refute the statement that the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, made when London and the EU signed the trade pact on Christmas night last year. Von der Leyen then said: “We can now leave Brexit behind.” A completely inaccurate statement, as is now shown. In fact, the consequences of Brexit will drag on for decades.