None of the stages of the UK exit was smooth . And post-Brexit is no less hectic. The demands of London to obtain drastic and fast transfers on the protocol of Northern Ireland, which maintains free movement with this British territory despite the divorce, have put Brussels on guard, which refuses to reverse that pact, with which avoided a physical border on the island.
Despite the tensions unleashed in the British region , community sources affirm that the EU does not renounce the “full implementation” of this agreement.
Border tensions between the EU and the UK have reached Northern Ireland. The EU decided this week to temporarily withdraw its officials from ports in the British region where customs controls between Northern Ireland and Britain are scheduled after threatening graffiti appeared in Belfast and Larne marking them as “targets.”
London is clear that this is a consequence of the – quickly rectified – misstep by Brussels in deciding to impose a control on exports of vaccines from the Republic of Ireland to the British side of the island through a security mechanism of the Withdrawal Agreement.
But Brussels believes that this slip, which it committed as a result of the conflict with the pharmaceutical AstraZeneca, is not behind the discomfort of an environment in unionist neighborhoods that the police in the region define as “feverish.”
The gaffe of the Commission has provided the Government of Boris Johnson a golden opportunity to demand a renegotiation of the protocol on Northern Ireland, one of the thorniest political chapters for London of the agreement of the Brexit.
The hard-line Conservative Party and Northern Irish unionists in the DUP have increased pressure on Johnson to ditch the deal, which involves shifting the UK-EU border to the Irish Sea. “It has not worked, it cannot work and, according to the proposals we have sent to the British Government, it must be replaced,” wrote Northern Ireland Prime Minister and DUP Leader Arlene Foster in The Daily Telegraph .
Last Wednesday night, Johnson’s chief of staff, Michael Gove, asked by letter to the vice president of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic several concessions to calm the spirits in Northern Ireland. “I expected a firm response [in the region], but the reaction has been much more negative than expected,” said Gove, who has ministerial rank, in the letter.
“There has been a sense of shock and anger among all political parties, civil society and business organizations in Northern Ireland,” he added. Specifically, Johnson’s chief of staff asked to extend the grace period for customs controls on certain goods, which expires on April 1, until June 2023 and, in the case of meat, to change the rules of the game accordingly. “permanent”.
Brussels, which believes that the United Kingdom should not delay the requirement of these controls any longer, agreed after a meeting by videoconference between Gove and Sefcovic in which both parties “will immediately work intensively to find solutions to outstanding problems.”
However, diplomatic sources criticize the tone of Gove’s letter, which could even be interpreted as an ultimatum. Gove argues in the letter that, “if it is not possible to agree on a path to proceed” in the way he proposes, “the UK will consider using all the instruments at its disposal.” And it ends up demanding from the EU “an urgent restart “. Johnson had already threatened in the House of Commons with invoking himself the controversial article of the agreements that Brussels threatened to use.
The European Commission calls any conversation to the joint committee to monitor the agreements. The leaders of that committee, Gove and Sefcovic, will meet next week in London. By then, according to community sources, Johnson’s chief of staff should have received a response to his letter.
Diplomatic sources say that confining the talks to that commission is a way of warning the United Kingdom that in no case will it be accepted to review the Irish protocol in depth.
The European Commission, in fact, intends to stop Johnson’s offensive to modify the pacts reached in extremis in December, using the stumbling block of the European Commission in invoking the controversial article 16 of the protocol.
Brussels, according to these sources, counted on the fact that it should be used thoroughly in the management of disagreements on account of the different interpretations of the Withdrawal Agreement. London’s refusal to give diplomatic recognition to the EU representative was already seen as a declaration of intent that confirmed that fear.
However, the Commission did not expect the United Kingdom to put on the table, at least not so soon, a renegotiation of an agreement that was the result of extremely complex balances between the two parties. “We remain committed to the full application of the protocol,” said a community spokeswoman on Thursday.
With the same firmness as Brussels, the Government of Ireland, one of the main actors in the crisis unleashed in recent days, spoke out. “We must tell people the truth. The protocol is not going to be removed. We must find a way to make it useful to everyone and to maximize the flexibilities it provides, so that trade is as fluid as possible, ”Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Foreign Minister, told the BBC .
A spokeswoman for the European Commission spoke of seeking “pragmatic solutions.” But these outputs, according to community sources, do not necessarily have to delay the grace periods, now between three and six months, which were given to require that the products that arrive in Northern Ireland have the proper documents that certify that they comply with European food safety requirements due to pressure from large British multinationals. “The EU wanted to share the single market and the customs union, but that was rejected,” Coveney ugly to London.