Dispute over Northern Ireland
London (dpa) – A little more than six months after the full entry into force, the British government wants to renegotiate parts of the Brexit agreement.
The British Brexit representative David Frost said on Wednesday in London. “Significant changes” are needed to the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, said the cabinet member in the House of Lords. He added, “To put it simply, we can’t go on like this.”
A direct rejection came from Brussels. They will work with London to “seek creative solutions within the framework of the protocol,” said EU Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, according to a statement. However, he added: “We will not agree to renegotiating the protocol.”
The background to the dispute is the agreement that Northern Ireland will continue to follow the rules of the EU internal market. This is to prevent goods controls between the British province and the EU member Republic of Ireland. Otherwise the conflict in the former civil war region is expected to flare up again. The majority Catholic supporters of union with Ireland insist on an open border with the neighbor.
However, the Northern Ireland Protocol makes trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK difficult. There must now be controls to ensure that no goods from third countries enter the EU internal market through the back door. This creates tension, especially among the predominantly Protestant supporters of the union with Great Britain.
At times there were already empty fruit or vegetable shelves in some Northern Irish supermarkets, and many fear further, even greater shortages in food and other products in the future. In addition, British farmers could be at a disadvantage if at some point in Northern Ireland they prefer to buy sausages from the EU state Ireland due to the hurdles.
Brussels accuses the UK government of not properly implementing the protocol. London, on the other hand, accuses the EU Commission of interpreting the rules too petty.
The previous regulations are not suitable to secure peace in the former civil war region, explained Frost. “As we have tried to implement the Protocol, it has become clear that its burdens have become a source of significant and ongoing damage to life and livelihood,” he said. Therefore, a new equilibrium must now be created to facilitate trade in goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Also, EU institutions such as the European Court of Justice should no longer play a role in monitoring the agreement.
The tensions in Northern Ireland had recently increased again significantly, in April there were violent riots in parts of the province. The climate commissioner and former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, expressed concern on Wednesday about the growing tensions. That was “a constant concern,” Kerry told the BBC 4 radio station on Wednesday. US President Joe Biden is “deeply concerned” with the issue.
Frost proposed a so-called “period of standstill” to the EU, during which the transition periods that had previously been in force should be extended and legal disputes paused. The final consequence with Article 16 of the protocol, intended as an emergency brake, with which parts of the agreement can be overridden, is not yet to be drawn, although the prerequisites for this are in place, said Frost. One continues to hope for an agreement with Brussels.
The opposition Labor Party severely criticized the government’s move. Johnson and Frost negotiated the agreement down to the last icing on the cake and praised it in the highest tones, said Labor MP Louise Haigh in the lower house. Now to pretend that they did not know then what the consequences would be, undermines trust in the government. “The country will wonder whether this is malicious intent or incompetence,” said Haigh.
Anna Cavazzini, Green MEP in the European Parliament, accused the government in London of de facto repealing the Northern Ireland Protocol. The government had promised the people “the blue of the sky” during Brexit – but now this construct is breaking up piece by piece. In this situation, the EU must react steadfastly but not arrogantly, she demanded.
In fact, soon after the Brexit agreement was signed, Johnson kept asserting that there would be no controls whatsoever between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Johnson negotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol after his predecessor Theresa May failed in the British Parliament with what became known as the “Backstop” plan. Accordingly, the whole of Great Britain would have continued to follow the rules of the EU internal market, but Johnson and other Brexit hardliners rejected this. Even the Protestant Northern Irish DUP, which tipped the scales at the time and today complains most heavily about the protocol, blocked May with the “backstop” plan.
© dpa-infocom, dpa: 210721-99-466806 / 2