A new battle of the ‘War of Sausages’ between the United Kingdom and the EU for the application of the Brexit agreement takes place this week in the Iberian Peninsula. From Marbella, where he is spending a week of vacation, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has indicated that he does not plan to accept the proposals of the European Commission presented this Wednesday to solve the problems in Northern Ireland.
Instead, Johnson threatens to break the “magnificent” agreement that he himself negotiated, carried out as an electoral program, approved in the new Parliament after winning an absolute majority and ratified in December 2020, which he now calls “unacceptable”.
Yesterday, Johnson sent his Brexit minister, Lord Frost, to Lisbon, where he gave a speech by videoconference, before 270 spectators, in which he alleged that the agreement on Northern Ireland – which keeps the British province in the Common Market at the cost of establishing an internal border with Great Britain – it was negotiated from a British “position of weakness”, and they want to renegotiate it.
Not only the edges, but from the foundations. For this, the so-called Article 16 of the agreement would apply, which requires the creation of a debate mechanism in the Joint Committee that supervises the application of the agreement, to find “mutually acceptable solutions” in the event that it produces “serious economic, social or environmental difficulties” . Frost insisted that his red line is the EU Court of Justice’s oversight of the treaty’s application, something that requires it to be erased from any new deal.
The Vice President of the Commission, Maro ?? ?? ef? ovi ?, however, wants to focus on improving the existing pact, which they insist is the only one acceptable to the EU. The proposal made today by Brussels offers to improve the situation in Northern Ireland with “practical and creative solutions” that explore the limits of European law, to reduce conflicts over the application of the protocol. “We have spoken with social groups on the ground and we know what the real problems are,” he said.
The proposal, advanced already last week , would reduce controls on meat products and medicines from England and destined for consumption in Northern Ireland, and reduce paperwork for companies. In return “we need the British Government to do its part”, creating a specific labeling for these products and collaborating in the new controls, to reduce them to a minimum. In addition, “we will increase the participation of the institutions of Northern Ireland”, inviting the provincial government to meetings with the Commission to discuss the issues arising from the agreement and report any changes to the European rules to discuss possible effects and solutions.
The central problem remains that Johnson reluctantly accepted the internal division of his country as a way to solve the ‘ impossible Irish border theorem ‘. In order not to resurrect the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland that left thousands of deaths during the 20th century, there were only two options: either an ‘Irexit’ that no one in Ireland wanted, or to put customs controls in the middle of the United Kingdom. Johnson branded this option “unacceptable to any British prime minister” until the day he accepted it. But the regret came early: when its effects were realized, and English, Welsh and Scottish companies had to start carrying out customs procedures to be able to trade with part of their own country.
This Wednesday, the former Johnson Chief of Staff, Dominic Cummings, assured that Johnson had signed this treaty without understanding exactly what its consequences would be – “he did not understand what the customs union was until November 2020” -, and that both trusted in “Being able to get rid of the bits we didn’t like about the deal after beating [former Labor leader Jeremy] Corbyn” in the 2019 election. “Cheating foreigners is part of our job,” said the former right-hand man. of Johnson during the negotiations.
For Brussels, however, the agreement is already signed and ratified, and ‘pacta sunt servanda’. “We hope that the British Government will join us in a frank debate to improve the agreement and find the solutions Northern Ireland deserves,” said ?? ef? Ovi ?. The Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, warned that, if London is going to regret an international agreement so soon, the only possible conclusion is that the United Kingdom “is not a reliable partner”, and recommends to the rest of the countries of the world not to negotiate nothing with such an interlocutor.
A complex reality
In Northern Ireland itself, the situation is, as always, quite complex. The province, which has reoriented its trade towards the EU, has avoided the food and fuel shortages that still hit much of Britain, with the capital, London, as ‘ground zero’ of the crisis.
In return, the political environment has been strained, especially among unionists, who see this move as a historic betrayal of London. The main party in the territory, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), took the agreement with the EU to the courts – which dismissed the appeal – claiming that the Union Act between Ireland and Great Britain of 1800 prohibited the creation of barriers to trade internal. After two internal riots, the party is going for its third leader in a year, Jeffrey Donaldson, who has threatened to leave the government and force snap elections in protest. The polls are scheduled, in principle, for next May, and the DUP has slumped in the polls, leaving first of all its archenemies, the Irish nationalists of Sinn Féin,
Still, not everything is rage. Street tension has subsided since the beginning of the year, and the more moderate unionist parties that are profiting from the collapse of the DUP support the search for a consensus. Doug Beattie, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party -the former affiliate of the ‘Tories’ in Northern Ireland until its breakup in 1974-, has asked to “take advantage of the room for maneuver” within the Brexit agreement to find a solution acceptable to all the parts. And he has warned that the province “cannot be a ball that is constantly passed between the EU and the UK.”