Prime Minister Boris Johnson chose the day before the truce of the British Parliament – and the day of the Belgian National Day – to signify in Brussels, Wednesday, July 21, that he wanted to renegotiate as a whole the very sensitive Northern Irish protocol.
Is the ultimate provocation before the summer break, a political gesture towards a loyalist community at bay or a real concern to improve a text deemed inadequate? “We will not accept a renegotiation of the protocol”, replied Maros Sefcovic, the vice-president of the European Commission, preferring not to immediately play the escalation.
The Northern Irish Protocol is a crucial part of the UK-European Union (EU) Divorce Treaty. Entered into force in early 2021, it governs the dual status of Northern Ireland, with the province still part of the United Kingdom, but remaining in the EU’s internal market for goods. The aim is to avoid the return of a land border with the Republic of Ireland and not to jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement, which ended the “unrest” in 1998.
The protocol had been validated by the Johnson government at the end of 2019, which, at the time, was pleased to have succeeded in reaching this agreement with the EU. But since the start of the year, London has been reluctant to apply the text and carry out the necessary customs controls for goods transiting from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
A weak link between London and Belfast
Faced with British insistence, Brussels made concessions, still agreeing, at the end of June, to extend until the end of September the implementation of customs controls on prepared and minced meat. Not enough for Boris Johnson, who, in a report released on Wednesday, claims that“It is now clear that we cannot apply these provisions [douanières] in a sustainable way, at least not in the inflexible way the EU wants ”. The Prime Minister goes so far as to threaten to activate Article 16 of the protocol, allowing its unilateral suspension, if Brussels does not agree to rewrite the text …
Speaking in the House of Commons, Lord Frost, the minister responsible for Europe, added refusing to go “From period of grace to period of grace” and claimed a « pause » in the application of the protocol to allow time for renegotiation. London is demanding that customs controls be carried out only on products passing through Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland. And refuses that the Court of Justice of the EU still has a say in the governance of the protocol.
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