Even after Brexit, the rules of the EU internal market apply in Northern Ireland. The British government is apparently dissatisfied with this and wants new rules. The EU reacts promptly by rejecting it.
The British government is continuing on a confrontational course with Brussels in the dispute over the Brexit rules for Northern Ireland. Brexit representative David Frost said in the House of Lords in London on Wednesday that “significant changes” were needed to the rules set out in the Brexit Agreement as the Northern Ireland Protocol. “We believe these changes are necessary in the situation we are in,” said the cabinet member. “To put it simply, we can’t go on like this.”
A direct rejection came from Brussels. It 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 renegotiation of the protocol.”
The background to the dispute is the regulation stipulated in the Brexit 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.
“Period of standstill” proposed
The previous regulations are not suitable to secure peace in the former civil war region, said 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,” Frost continued. 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 compliance with the agreement.
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.
Labor and the Greens sharply criticize Johnson
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 of the Brexit “the blue sky” – but now this construct is breaking apart piece by piece. In this situation, the EU must react steadfastly but not arrogantly, she demanded.
Johnson can’t keep his promise
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.
But the Northern Ireland Protocol makes trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK difficult. This is also causing tension, especially among the predominantly Protestant supporters of the Union with Great Britain. Brussels accuses the UK government of not properly implementing the protocol. London, on the other hand, accuses the EU Commission of interpreting the agreement too petty.