Just a week after surviving a no-confidence vote in his group, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has started a new dispute with the EU.
A bill introduced in the House of Commons on Monday is intended to unilaterally change the Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland agreed with Brussels. Criticism of the plans came from Brussels as well as from the Irish government in Dublin and the majority of MPs in Northern Ireland’s regional parliament. On the other hand, the move was welcomed by the unionist-Protestant DUP party in Northern Ireland.
The law is necessary to ensure stability and peace in the former troubled province, said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. She added: “We remain open to talks with the EU.” However, progress can only be made if Brussels accepts changes to the agreement known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.
London is threatening to stop the goods controls agreed in the protocol to protect the EU internal market and to replace them with a voluntary regulation. In addition, the role of the European Court of Justice is to be drastically restricted. London also wants to give itself a free hand when it comes to VAT regulations. According to a large number of experts, this would be a clear breach of international law. However, the government in London denies this.
EU: No renegotiation
EU Vice-President Maros Sefcovic made it clear that renegotiating the Northern Ireland Protocol is out of the question. “That would just mean more legal uncertainty for the people and companies in Northern Ireland,” said Sefcovic on Monday evening in Brussels. The EU Commission will now consider resuming the legal proceedings against London that had been started for previous violations but were then put on hold. The initiation of further infringement procedures that could protect the European internal market will also be examined.
Government reacts with regret
Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke of a very regrettable decision by the British government. There is no reason for this departure from the agreements between the EU and Great Britain, said the SPD politician after a meeting with Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger. Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also accused the British government of unilaterally breaking agreements and thus destroying trust. “And for transparent, own motives,” wrote the Green politician on Twitter. “Peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland is not a pawn,” added Baerbock.
The US government called on London and Brussels to return to talks “to settle differences,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.
Ireland’s Prime Minister Michael Martin described the move as a “new low”; it was “very unfortunate for a country like Britain to break an international agreement”.
Headwind for Johnson also came from Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast. A letter signed by 52 of the 90 MPs in Northern Ireland’s regional parliament said the bill went against the express wish of businesses and people in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein: “Unscrupulous and shameful”
Sharp criticism came from the Catholic-Republican party Sinn Fein, which became the strongest force in Northern Ireland for the first time in May’s regional elections. “It’s ruthless, it’s disgraceful and it’s in no way serving the interests of the people here,” said Michelle O’Neill, Prime Minister-elect and Sinn Fein Vice President.
Jeffrey Donaldson, head of the Protestant Unionist party DUP, which is blocking the formation of a unity government in Northern Ireland in protest against the protocol, found words of praise. According to Donaldson, what the government in London has presented is a solution and that is what is needed at the moment.
Intra-British goods border suits Brexit supporters Not
The Northern Ireland Protocol is part of the 2019 Brexit deal. It stipulates that the province, which is part of the United Kingdom, will continue to follow the rules of the EU internal market and the European Customs Union. This is intended to prevent product controls for the EU member Republic of Ireland in order to prevent the conflict between opponents and supporters of a unification of the two parts of Ireland flaring up again. But now an intra-British goods border has been created.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushed through the agreement against the will of the DUP during the 2019 election campaign and celebrated it as a major breakthrough. He then won a clear majority in the parliamentary elections. In the meantime, however, he has gotten into trouble because of the affair about lockdown parties at the seat of government. Last week he had to face a no-confidence vote in his own group. He was able to assert himself, but is considered politically counted. According to British commentators, he wants to secure the support of the Brexit hardliners in his group with the step.
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