Unilateral change of agreements with the European Union “is not a big problem”: so is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Downplaying the impact of the British decision to scrap parts of the international treaty signed in 2019. The Conservative government introduced a series of amendments to the Irish protocol in Parliament on June 13 that it intends to implement without EU approval. According to Johnson, “minor tweaks” were needed after months of fruitless negotiations to change the deal.
For the EU, on the other hand, Johnson chose the open showdown. So Brussels intends to respond immediately: the Commission decided to reopen the breach procedure, which was opened in March 2021 and suspended in September 2021. London’s decision “harms mutual trust and creates instability”, according to the Vice-President of the EU Commission, Maros Sivkovic. Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin said that “a unilateral breach of an international agreement is very serious”. Secretary of State Liz Truss insisted, “We are amending the protocol, not canceling it” and thus “there are no violations of international law.”
Changes in the pipeline
However, the changes relate to large parts of the agreement. London does not accept the supervision of the European Court of Justice as the supreme arbiter, which is one ruling for the EU indispensable condition. It also intends to reduce border controls on goods from Great Britain, introduce a green corridor for products destined for the Northern Ireland market and a red corridor for those to be exported to the Republic of Ireland, and thus to the European Union.
A very serious risk for the EU is to jeopardize the integrity of the single market. The protocol keeps Northern Ireland in the single market and in the EU’s customs union to avoid a return to Ireland’s internal borders that could renew political and religious tensions. The agreement was strongly opposed by the Protestant Protestant Union party, as it creates a split between Northern Ireland, which remains in the orbit of the European Union, and the other three countries of the United Kingdom, Scotland, England and Wales, which remain fully sovereign.
In protest, Dobb refused to form a government. The party, which lost ground in the last election, is effectively blackmailing London, threatening to continue paralyzing politics in Northern Ireland until the protocol is scrapped. With the June 13 announcement, Johnson failed to satisfy Dobb. Indeed, the party has said it wants action, not words, and will wait to see the final version of the law before breaking the deadlock in Belfast.