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UK threatens to unilaterally withdraw Irish Protocol if EU doesn’t give in to its demands

Latest NewsUK threatens to unilaterally withdraw Irish Protocol if EU doesn't give in to its demands

The recent victory of the Sinn Féin Republicans in the regional elections in Northern Ireland gave the government of Boris Johnson a decisive argument for unilaterally changing the agreement on this region, signed with the EU in the context of Brexit.

“The Northern Ireland Protocol has today become the biggest obstacle to the formation of an autonomous executive,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told her community colleague in talks with Brussels Maros Shefkovic on Thursday. telephone conversation between them. “The situation in Northern Ireland is a matter of peace and internal security in the United Kingdom, and if the European Union does not show the necessary flexibility to deal with the problems that have arisen, our government has an obligation to act,” Truss said. .

The EU’s response in the form of its own statement was not long in coming. “Unilateral actions, which in practice mean ending the application of an international agreement such as a protocol, are simply unacceptable,” Shefkovic replied. “Anything like this would undermine trust between the EU and the UK and jeopardize our main goal: to protect the Good Friday Agreement. [el acuerdo de paz de 1998]. The EU and the UK are partners facing the same global challenges, where protecting the rule of law and respecting international obligations is a must,” added the EU negotiator.

Johnson wants to avoid the mistakes her predecessor Theresa May made when Northern Ireland joined the Brexit deals. And he realized that the best way to protect a controversial political decision was to cover it with a legal framework. For example, State Attorney General Swella Braverman, whose main function is to advise the government on legal matters, has given her consent to the unilateral annulment of some fundamental parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to The Times newspaper and confirmed by several British authorities. mass media. This is the exact opposite of what her predecessor Geoffrey Cox did. Happy to surprise the world with his parliamentary eloquence, this baritone lawyer has dealt the final blow to May’s plans to salvage the stumbling block in Northern Ireland. He questioned its legitimacy in the reports he produced and put the then prime minister on the ropes.

Braverman, by contrast, is now trying to pave the way for Johnson in his push to unilaterally withdraw some of the international treaty obligations that ended Britain’s EU membership. The plans of the British government to approve a new national rule that cancels part of the content of the protocol, the lawyer assures in his report, would be in line with the law. He claims that the development of the agreement with Brussels is “disproportionate and unreasonable”.

This is the same line of reasoning put forward by Johnson, his foreign secretary, Liz Truss, and Northern Ireland’s main trade union party, the DUP. The introduction of a new customs border in the Irish Sea separating the two islands (and Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom) has sparked social unrest, a resurgence of sectarian street violence and economic problems in the region. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which laid the foundation for an uneasy peace between the Protestant and Catholic communities, has been threatened, according to the Johnson government and now the state attorney general, and must be defended. because it takes precedence over the protocol signed with Brussels.

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The remains of a burned-out bus in Belfast on Monday. A poster in front of the car calls for the repeal of the Northern Ireland Protocol.Peter Morrison (AP)

The key to this mess is that the same argument from one side is being used for the other. The EU is convinced that only thanks to the protocol, the document attached to the Agreement on Withdrawal from the EU, signed by London, with the same legal force, it was possible to keep peace in this tormented region.

Leaving Northern Ireland in the EU internal market avoided a new border on the island. Otherwise, a customs barrier would have been necessary to prevent fraud or smuggling after Brexit. The Republic of Ireland is part of the EU and is the only land border with the UK. By agreeing not to create new physical divisions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it avoided irritating the republican nationalist community.

But the effect was the opposite. The most radical unionists, once again convinced that London had betrayed them, stirred up the streets, boycotted the joint institutions of the autonomous government (created in 1998 by a peace agreement) and demanded the disappearance of the protocol signed with Brussels. The auction took place on May 5, when Sinn Féin, a republican formation that for decades was considered the political arm of the terrorist organization IRA, won a historic victory in the regional elections in Northern Ireland. His candidate, Michelle O’Neill, is eligible to take the prime minister’s seat, but the DUP has already signaled that it will not cooperate in forming a government until the protocol issue is resolved.

Minister Truss inherited the negotiations with the EU from the Eurosceptic David Frost, who pushed the confrontation with Brussels to the limit. Initial signs from Truss suggested a more reserved and consensus-building stance, but he has hardened his tone in recent weeks, as seen on Thursday.

Truss accuses the EU of lack of flexibility and demands that Brussels show signs of more pragmatism. London wants to remove all customs barriers to trade between the UK and Northern Ireland, and that any future controls depend on a computerized system that has yet to be developed and proven effective. If this is not the case, Truss will give the green light to begin the processing of new laws that will unilaterally abolish the protocol’s customs controls on goods traveling from the UK to Northern Ireland; they will abolish community quality standards in the region; and, above all, abolish the supervisory role of the European Court of Justice, the black beast of the Euroskeptics.

“Let’s be realistic. In the grand scheme of things, we’re talking about a tiny part of the EU economy. Northern Ireland accounts for just 0.4% of the total value of that economy,” Johnson told the BBC late Wednesday night in Sweden, where he was on an official visit. “This is crazy. You don’t have to do so much drama, it’s something we just have to accommodate,” he insisted.

Opposition from Washington and Brussels

Both the administration of US President Joe Biden and the EU acknowledge that the protocol has created unexpected customs and economic tensions that need to be addressed.

Brussels has proposed reductions of up to 80% in tariffs or health controls, as well as specific solutions to send generic drugs from the UK to Northern Ireland or joint customs declaration of products that are transported in one shipment. London didn’t have enough. Johnson, who personally signed the protocol to implement his long-awaited Brexit, is now convinced that it was a mistake that irritated the hardline and Eurosceptic wing of the conservatives.

Commissioner Šefkovich’s warnings today were backed up by a strong statement made by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last Tuesday: “No one should unilaterally revoke, fragment or attack the agreement we signed together. This is a complex issue that concerns not only relations between the EU and the United Kingdom, but also the peaceful development of Ireland.”

Washington, which keeps a close eye on everything to do with Northern Ireland and keeps the proceeds from the peace deal sponsored by President Bill Clinton, has demanded that London and Brussels work to save the protocol. “The best path is pragmatism, and it requires courage, cooperation and leadership,” a White House spokesman said. “We ask both parties to maintain dialogue, resolve their differences and reach a satisfactory solution,” the statement said.

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