The British government, led by Governor Boris Johnson, announced, on Monday, that it will propose a law on the trade status of Northern Ireland, which, if passed without change, would violate agreements with the European Union on the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union itself.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss described the bill as “a reasonable and practical solution to the problems facing Northern Ireland”. On the other hand, the European Union indicated that the UK, if approved, would violate an international treaty, and secretly threatened to impose duties on British goods entering the territory of the European Union. It also reopened infringement proceedings against the United Kingdom on Wednesday.
According to many commentators, the UK and the EU reached the low point in their relationship after the completion of Brexit, which occurred in early 2021, on which both sides struggled to reach an agreement. “Confidence [nel Regno Unito] Completely betrayed, goodwill swept away, ” he wrote Take Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst and expert on Brexit.
A very important part of the Brexit deal is the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol. It is expected that despite Brexit, Northern Ireland (which is part of the United Kingdom) will remain in the European single market and in the Customs Union: that is, it will remain part of the European Trade Area, where there are controls on goods, quality standards and administrative steps differently decided by the union. This is to avoid building a physical barrier with Ireland, which is part of the European Union.
The new physical barrier could in fact lead to new ethnic and religious violence between Ireland and Northern Ireland, such as that which occurred during the entire post-war period until the Good Friday Peace Accords, signed in 1998.
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However, Northern Ireland’s establishment in the Common Market and Customs Union brought many new checks and papers on goods from the rest of the United Kingdom, and added to the inconvenience for people living in Northern Ireland. The British government has blamed the protocol’s stalemate in Northern Ireland, which the new law already seeks to circumvent.
The British government made it clear that it intended to establish two different bureaucratic routes for goods destined from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and those to the European Union. In the first case, the goods pass through a bureaucratic “green corridor” that allows them to reach Northern Ireland almost without any checks, which is currently done in British ports and can sometimes last several days. Instead, goods destined for the European Union will be routed in a “red corridor”, which provides all necessary checks.
However, creating a “green corridor” would explicitly violate the Northern Ireland Protocol, as it would allow goods that do not meet EU standards to easily enter the European Common Market – and therefore also in EU countries in terms of health or quality, or that are subject to For a tax regime other than that provided for by the Customs Union.
To give a concrete example: If the British government’s proposal were approved, the UK could theoretically export tons of cans of mackerel caught by low-paid workers to Northern Ireland – the UK government has made clear it wants to lower standards in its laws. In action – canned with less precise procedures than European standards, and heavily subsidized by the government: thus at a very low final price. If these cans enter the EU single market, they will be sold at bargain prices: in fact, the UK will compete unfairly with the EU countries.
The bill contains two other proposals that go in this direction. The first is that the UK government would like to apply the same tax breaks in Northern Ireland as in other areas of the UK; With the real danger, in the absence of a physical barrier, of subsidized goods arriving in Ireland at ridiculously low prices. It also calls for any trade dispute between the UK and the EU to be settled by independent arbitration without the intervention of the EU Court of Justice, which is provided for by the Northern Ireland Protocol on Disputes in Certain Certain Sectors.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, introducing the text of the law, said the proposed changes to the protocol for Northern Ireland were “nothing special”. However, the EU has made it clear for some time that it does not intend to change the protocol significantly: in October 2021 it proposed some very limited changes to allow more simplified controls for refrigerated meat (necessary for the production of sausages, very popular in Northern Ireland), but also for medicines and plants.
The UK government rejected the proposal and the Commission has since refused to enter into new negotiations with the UK, likely to avoid being drawn into negotiations and then blaming them for their eventual failure.
“Whenever he gets into trouble, Johnson uses his Brexit card,” he wrote in Johnson’s newspaper. bound Europe expert David Caretta, explaining that Johnson has often toughened his tone on Brexit in times of political turmoil, in an attempt to change the subject. In recent months, Johnson has been in trouble over an organized party scandal at his residence between May 2020 and April 2021, during lockdowns due to the pandemic. Last week, he passed by a razor-thin majority in a vote of confidence on his work called by the Conservative Party. In short, Johnson may have decided to propose a new law on Northern Ireland to force an argument into public debate different from his political difficulties.
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Labor is also attacking the prime minister over a bill that would violate the Northern Ireland protocol. In an article hosted by guardianLabor MP David Lammy, the party’s foreign policy chief, noted that the decision to leave Northern Ireland in the European single market and customs union was made by Johnson himself, to open the Brexit deal. “There is no way out,” Lamy wrote. “Conservatives must take responsibility for the problems caused by the protocol, which must now be resolved.”
It is not clear what will happen in the next few weeks. Katja Adler, journalist from BBC News who follows European affairs, wrote that the EU “did not want to respond disproportionately – after all, the proposal has not yet become law – but did not want to belittle it either”. For this reason, the European Commission has for the time being limited to reopening a breach procedure launched in March 2021 over alleged violations of the Northern Ireland Protocol on Controls for Goods leaving the UK, which was then suspended once the political climate stabilized. was recumbent. The commission also announced the opening of two additional infringement proceedings in relation to alleged minor violations.
Another veiled threat has already arrived from Maros Shevsowicz, the European Commission’s vice-president and the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator. In a press release published on Monday, Shevsowicz declared that the British government’s proposed law “damages the confidence necessary for UK-EU cooperation as foreseen in the trade agreement between the two parties”: many commentators have interpreted this seemingly innocuous quote as a reference to the imposition of duties. on British products in the event of a breach of the EU-UK trade agreement, contained in the Brexit agreements.
Much will also depend on what support Johnson can get on the bill within the Conservative Party: British newspapers are not sure that the law at the moment contains the numbers to be approved in Parliament, but more will be known in the coming weeks..