London (dpa) – Just over six months after full entry into force, the British government wants to renegotiate parts of the Brexit agreement.
British Brexit representative David Frost said this in London on Wednesday. “Significant changes” are needed in the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, the cabinet member in the House of Lords said. He added: “To put it simply, we can’t go on like this.”
An immediate rejection came from Brussels. They will work with London to “seek creative solutions within the framework of the protocol,” European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said in a statement. However, he added: “We will not agree to renegotiate the protocol.”
The background to the dispute is the agreement that Northern Ireland will continue to follow the rules of the EU’s internal market. This is to prevent goods controls between the British province and the EU Member State of Ireland. Otherwise, the conflict in the former civil war zone is expected to flare up again. The majority of Catholic supporters of the union with Ireland are pushing for an open border with the neighboring country.
However, the Northern Ireland Protocol makes trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK more difficult. Controls must now be put in place to ensure that no goods from third countries enter the EU’s internal market through the back door. This is causing tensions, especially among the predominantly Protestant supporters of the union with Britain.
Some Northern Ireland supermarkets already had empty shelves for fruit or vegetables, and many fear even greater shortages of food and other products in the future. In addition, British farmers could be at a disadvantage if at some point in Northern Ireland they prefer to buy sausages from the EU state of Ireland because of the hurdles.
Brussels accuses the British government of not properly implementing the protocol. London, on the other hand, accuses the European Commission of interpreting the rules too insignificantly.
The previous regulations are not suitable for securing peace in the former Civil War area, explains Frost. “As we have tried to implement the protocol, it has become apparent that its burdens have become a source of significant and ongoing damage to life and livelihoods,” he said. Therefore, a new balance must now be created to facilitate trade in goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. EU institutions such as the European Court of Justice are also no longer allowed to play a role in supervising the agreement.
Tensions in Northern Ireland had recently risen sharply, with violent riots in parts of the province in April. Climate Commissioner and former US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern about rising tensions on Wednesday. That was “a constant concern,” Kerry told the BBC 4 radio station on Wednesday. US President Joe Biden is “deeply concerned” about the issue.
Frost proposed to the EU a so-called “period of standstill” during which the previously applicable transition periods should be extended and legal disputes paused. The ultimate consequence with Article 16 of the protocol, intended as an emergency brake, with which parts of the agreement can be broken, cannot yet be drawn, even if the conditions are there, according to Frost. There is still hope for an agreement with Brussels.
The opposition Labor party strongly criticized the government’s decision. Johnson and Frost negotiated the deal to the last icing on the cake and praised it in the highest notes, Labor MP Louise Haigh said in the House of Representatives. Pretending now as if they didn’t know then what the consequences would be undermines trust in government. “The country will question whether this is malicious intent or incompetence,” Haigh said.
Anna Cavazzini, Green MEP in the European Parliament, accused the London government of the de facto withdrawal of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The government had promised the people “the blue of the sky” during Brexit – but now this construction is falling apart piece by piece. In this situation, the EU must react steadfastly but not arrogantly, she demanded.
In fact, shortly after the Brexit deal was signed, Johnson continued to claim that there would be no control whatsoever between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Johnson negotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol after his predecessor Theresa May failed in the British Parliament with what came to be known as the “Backstop” plan. For example, the whole of Britain would have continued to follow the rules of the EU’s internal market, but Johnson and other Brexit hardliners rejected this. Even the Protestant Northern Ireland DUP, which was the deciding factor at the time and is now the most complaining about protocol, blocked May with the ‘backstop’ plan.