Even after the completion of Brexit, the issue of Northern Ireland remains the most sensitive issue. Two and a half months after the UK’s departure from the EU, the dispute between the EU and Great Britain breaks out again.
Brussels / London (dpa) – The European Union has initiated proceedings against Great Britain for violation of the EU Withdrawal Agreement. The EU commission announced this in Brussels on Monday.
Background is a dispute over the special Brexit rules for the British province of Northern Ireland. Brussels accuses London of arbitrarily altering agreements and thus violating the contract negotiated in 2019. Infringement proceedings are likely to put even more pressure on already tense relations between the EU and the UK.
The so-called Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Treaty stipulates that some rules of the EU internal market will continue to apply to Northern Ireland. This should make land border controls with the EU state of Ireland on the common island redundant. But this creates a goods border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain. Imports must be checked. Although a grace period of several months with reduced controls has been agreed, companies are complaining about problems. In Northern Ireland, supermarket shelves were sometimes empty.
The first transition phase after the completion of Brexit around the turn of the year should be over by the end of March. According to this article, suppliers of animal products must have health certificates for deliveries from the UK to Northern Ireland. But the UK government announced a unilateral extension, referring to the “often disproportionate consequences” of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Crisis talks between the EU and Great Britain did not help. A few days later, London created another fait accompli by suspending an import ban on plants from Great Britain in potting soil.
The responsible Vice-President of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, reacted sharply, accusing the British government of breaching contract and trust. The Irish government was also outraged. British Brexit representative David Frost replied that the British measures were legal. He spoke of “temporary, operational steps”.
The issue of Northern Ireland is considered one of the most difficult in connection with Britain’s departure from the EU in 2020. In the British province, supporters of an independent united Ireland and supporters of the union with Britain fought for decades. against each other. The conflict was defused with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. After that, both parts of the island became a common economic space with no visible boundary. The fear is that Brexit will divide the island again.
For the UK, Northern Ireland’s rules are politically sensitive as Northern Ireland may feel disconnected from the rest of the UK. The EU, on the other hand, is pushing for import controls in Northern Ireland, as without them some sort of back door to the EU’s internal market could emerge. In the worst case, checks would have to be carried out at the inner Irish border – politically unacceptable to the EU and its member Ireland.
The tone between London and Brussels is now very rough, most recently in the conflict over the corona vaccine. Charles Michel, president of the EU Council, accused Britain of imposing an export ban. London indignantly rejected this. The focus is on the product of the British-Swedish manufacturer Astrazeneca, which produces and supplies large quantities in Great Britain. However, the company does not comply with its delivery obligations to the EU, including with regard to export restrictions.
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