The Johnson Government gives the green light to the law that will unilaterally revoke Northern Ireland’s membership in the EU | International

The UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, announced this Tuesday in the House of Commons the law that will unilaterally modify part of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, announced this Tuesday in the House of Commons the law that will unilaterally modify part of the Northern Ireland Protocol.– (AFP)

The United Kingdom gives another twist to the eternal struggle of the Boris Johnson government around the Brexit that it signed, but whose consequences it never fully accepts. The British Foreign Minister, Liz Truss, who is in charge of the negotiations with Brussels, finally announced this Tuesday, officially, before the House of Commons, her willingness to promote new legislation that serves to unilaterally alter the controversial Protocol of Northern Ireland, which manages the fit of this British region in the new commercial relations of London and Brussels, once the exit of the community club from the United Kingdom is completed. “We remain open to a negotiated situation [con la UE]but the urgency of the situation does not allow any more time to be wasted”, Truss announced.

Clinging to the argument that the Protocol has subjected to tensions what was reached in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which brought peace to the region and established the balance of government between Protestants and Catholics, the minister has said that “in the coming weeks ” will have the new law ready. “We do not intend to eliminate the Protocol. We will strengthen those parts that work and we will modify those that do not, but we will maintain a parallel negotiation with our partners in the EU”, she has affirmed.

Truss has assured that the Government does not violate international law with this measure, a statement that has caused spontaneous laughter in the benches of the Labor opposition. The minister accused the EU, and without referring to him, its negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, of not having a negotiating mandate right now to reform the Protocol, and even of trying to reverse part of the changes negotiated in the last months.

Stephen Doughty, the Labor Foreign Ministry spokesman, has called for seriousness and diplomatic effort from the Johnson government, and flexibility from the EU, but has expressed concern about Truss’s announcement of unilaterally changing an international treaty. “The UK must keep its word. The world is watching us and wondering whether or not to do business with us,” Doughty said.

The community negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, has warned in a statement that Truss’s decision was a “serious concern” and that unilaterally modifying an international agreement is not “acceptable”. “If the UK decides to go ahead with the law it has announced, which removes constituent elements of the Protocol, the EU will have to respond with all measures at its disposal,” he said. A subtle way of suggesting that the possibility of taking legal action against the United Kingdom is on the table.

Truss’s announcement officially confirms, in parliament, the will of the Johnson Government to propose a new duel of strength to the EU regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol. He has not even presented a draft law, and the supposed parliamentary process of the project will not begin, according to Downing Street sources, until early summer. The purpose is simple, but its design and execution can end up having a boomerang effect. Johnson explained this Monday, during his lightning visit to Belfast, that the new law was simply intended to act as “insurance”, in the event that the political instability that the region is now suffering worsens.

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It was intended to convey reassurance to all political parties in Northern Ireland. He achieved the opposite. The unionists of the DUP, who have announced their intention to continue blocking the formation of the new autonomous government until substantial parts of the Protocol are effectively revoked, smelled the trap. Its leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, demanded that the new law not be simply announced, but processed and approved. The leader of the Republicans of Sinn Féin, Michelle O’Neill, who should occupy the post of chief minister of Northern Ireland after her historic victory in the recent regional elections, has reproached Johnson for a “reckless” attitude that puts at risk the stability of the territory.

“We do not want to cut up the Protocol, but we believe that it can be repaired and improved,” said the British Prime Minister in Belfast. “And we would like to be able to do this in mutual agreement with our partners and friends,” he added. The idea of ​​leading to a trade war with the EU makes Johnson extremely uncomfortable, as many of his advisers have explained anonymously to the British media.

In the midst of the crisis in Ukraine, with galloping inflation that the governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, alarmed this Monday, in apocalyptic terms, and with polls that reveal how his popularity continues to fall, the Prime Minister British has no appetite to open a new front. But the pressure coming from his natural partners in Northern Ireland, the unionist forces, and from the most eurosceptic sector of the Conservative Party, push him back to the stage in which he is most comfortable, that of the confrontation with Brussels.

green aisle and red aisle

From a technical point of view, there are aspects of the Protocol on which the negotiators of both parties could work. Both Brussels and London are aware that the application has caused unforeseen trade and customs frictions that have complicated the lives of companies and citizens. The agreement forced Northern Ireland to remain in the EU’s internal market, meaning that products traveling from Great Britain to that territory must undergo customs and health controls. The sausage war that pitted both sides last year had to do with that: the big British supermarket chains had stopped sending their products to their Northern Irish stores.

Downing Street proposes to establish a “green corridor” for goods from Great Britain that would remain in Northern Irish territory and would not make the jump to the Republic of Ireland (EU territory). For those products, the controls would be abolished. And a “red corridor” for the rest of shipments. Downing Street wants the quality standards imposed in the area to be British, and not those of the EU. And it wants more tax flexibility, so that any change in its VAT (value added tax) is transferred to the VAT imposed in Northern Ireland.

The British Government assures that it is willing to provide better computer data on its commercial exchanges, so that Brussels has greater control. And it demands that the Court of Justice of the EU not be the supervisory body of the rules of the community market in Northern Ireland, but that an arbitration mechanism similar to the one established in the Trade and Cooperation Treaty signed by London and Ireland be applied. Brussels to avoid a hard Brexit.

The EU could contemplate some of these proposals, although others are completely contrary to the spirit of the Protocol. And, above all, he is suspicious of the true will and honesty of the Johnson government, which has demonstrated on more than one occasion its intention to use the battles with Brussels more as propaganda in its national political debate than as negotiating tactics. But above all, the idea of ​​passing a law in its national Parliament to choose or discard the parts of the Irish Protocol that suit it is interpreted in Brussels as an unbearable breach of legality and international commitments.

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