The UK threatens the EU to unilaterally revoke the Ireland Protocol if it does not give in to its demands | International

The recent victory of the Sinn Féin republicans in the regional elections in Northern Ireland has given the Government of Boris Johnson the definitive argument to carry out its plans to unilaterally alter the agreement on this region signed with the EU in the context of Brexit. “The Northern Ireland Protocol has today become the biggest obstacle to forming the Autonomous Executive,” British Foreign Minister Liz Truss told her community counterpart in negotiations with Brussels, Maros Sefcovic, according to a report on Thursday. ministerial statement published by London just after the telephone conversation between the two. “The situation in Northern Ireland is a matter of peace and internal security in the United Kingdom, and if the European Union does not show the necessary flexibility to resolve the problems that have arisen, it is the responsibility of our Government to act,” he said. Truss release.

The response of the EU, through its own statement, has not been long in coming. “A unilateral action, which in practice means ceasing to apply an international agreement such as the Protocol, is simply not acceptable,” said Sefcovic. “Anything like that would undermine trust between the EU and the UK and put at risk our main objective: to protect the Good Friday Agreement. [acuerdo de paz de 1998]. (…) The EU and the United Kingdom are partners that face the same global challenges, in which defending the rule of law and complying with international obligations is a necessity”, added the community negotiator.

Boris Johnson wants to avoid the mistakes his predecessor, Theresa May, made with Northern Ireland’s Brexit fit. And he has understood that the best way to protect a controversial political decision is to cover it with a legal framework. The Attorney General of State, Suella Braverman, whose main function is to advise the Government legally, has given her approval to the idea of ​​unilaterally revoking fundamental parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to the newspaper The Times and confirm several British media. Just the opposite of what the person who held the position before her, Geoffrey Cox, did. The baritone-voiced lawyer, delighted to shock the world with his parliamentary oratory, delivered a knockout blow to May’s plans to save the Northern Ireland stumbling block. He questioned the legality of it in the reports he prepared and put the then prime minister on the ropes.

Braverman, on the other hand, is trying to pave the way for Johnson to unilaterally revoke international treaty obligations. The Government’s plans to approve a new national regulation that repeals part of the content of the Protocol, assures the jurist in her report, would be in accordance with the law, because the development of the agreement intended by Brussels is “disproportionate and unreasonable”.

It is the line of argument held by Johnson, his foreign secretary, Liz Truss, and Northern Ireland’s main unionist party, the DUP. The introduction of a new customs border in the Irish Sea, which separates the two islands (and Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom), has caused social unrest, a resurgence of sectarian street violence and economic problems in the region. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which laid the foundations for a precarious peace between the Protestant and Catholic communities, has been put in danger, according to the Johnson Government – and now, the State Attorney General -, and must be protected , because it prevails over the Protocol signed with Brussels.

The remains of the burned bus in Belfast, this Monday.  In front of the vehicle, a poster demands the withdrawal of the Northern Ireland Protocol
The remains of the burned bus in Belfast, this Monday. In front of the vehicle, a poster demands the withdrawal of the Northern Ireland ProtocolPeter Morrison (AP)

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The key to this mess is that the same argument of one party is used for the other. The EU is convinced that, only thanks to the Protocol, a document annexed to the Withdrawal Agreement of the European Union signed by London, with the same legal force, has it been possible to preserve peace in that tormented region. By keeping Northern Ireland within the Community internal market, it was avoided to build a new border within the island. Otherwise, a customs barrier would have been necessary to prevent fraud or smuggling after Brexit. The Republic of Ireland is part of the EU, and its only land border is with the United Kingdom. As there were no new dividing facilities on Irish soil, it was avoided to stoke the nerves of the republican nationalist community.

But the effect was the opposite. The most radical unionists, once again convinced that London had betrayed them, stirred up the streets, boycotted the joint Home Rule institutions created by the peace agreement and demanded the disappearance of the Protocol signed with Brussels. The auction took place on May 5, when Sinn Féin, the republican formation considered for decades the political arm of the IRA terrorist organization, won a historic victory in the regional elections in Northern Ireland. His candidate, Michelle O’Neill, has the right to occupy the chair of chief minister, but the DUP has already made it clear that she will not collaborate in the formation of the government until the issue of the Protocol is resolved.

Minister Truss inherited the negotiations with the EU from the eurosceptic David Frost, who took the confrontation with Brussels to the limit. The first signs of her mandate suggested a more tempered and consensus-facilitating position, but in recent weeks she has hardened her tone, as was seen this Thursday. Truss accuses the EU of showing little flexibility, and demands that it show greater pragmatism. London wants to eliminate all customs barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that any future controls depend on a computerized system yet to be developed and proven effective. If this is not the case, Truss will give the green light to start the processing of new laws that would unilaterally annul the customs controls imposed by the Protocol on products traveling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland; they would eliminate community quality standards within the region; and, above all, they would abolish the supervisory role of the European Court of Justice, the black beast of the Eurosceptics.

“Let’s be realistic. Within the general scheme, we are talking about a tiny part of the EU economy. Northern Ireland accounts for only 0.4% of the total value of that economy, ”Johnson told the BBC late on Wednesday in Sweden, where he was on an official visit. “It’s crazy. It is not necessary to make so much drama, it is something that we simply have to adjust, ”he insisted.

Opposition from Washington and Brussels

Both the US Administration of President Joe Biden and the EU admit that the Protocol has created unexpected customs and economic frictions that need a solution. Brussels offered a reduction of up to 80% of tariff or health controls, and specific solutions to the shipment of generic medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, or joint customs declarations of products traveling in the same shipment. Nothing has been enough for London. Johnson, who signed the Protocol in his own handwriting to carry out his long-awaited Brexit, is now convinced that it was a mistake, which has irritated the hard and eurosceptic wing of the conservatives.

The warnings launched today by Commissioner Sefcovic were reinforced by the serious message delivered by the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, last Tuesday: “No one should unilaterally cancel, fragment or attack an agreement that we signed together. It is a complex issue that not only has to do with relations between the EU and the United Kingdom, but also with the peaceful development of Ireland”.

Washington, which closely follows everything related to Northern Ireland, and watches over to preserve the benefits of the peace agreement sponsored in its day by President Bill Clinton, has demanded that London and Brussels work to save the Protocol. “The best path is pragmatism, and it requires courage, cooperation and leadership,” said a White House spokesman. “We ask both sides to maintain dialogue, resolve their differences and reach a satisfactory solution,” he added.

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