Tensions between the British government and the European Union over controls at the Northern Irish Sea border are once again rife. European patience becomes ‘very thin’ after a new salvo of British provocations.
The following days again promise fireworks between London and Brussels. A year and a half after the Brexit agreement and less than six months after the signing of a trade agreement with the United Kingdom, great tension is once again in the air. In Northern Ireland, the season of the Orange marches begins, the annual parades of the Protestant unionists. The meagre shop shelves and the cumbersome imports of meat or seeds from the United Kingdom are fuelling the aversion to Europe.
The British government is actively fuelling the frustration. In the British business newspaper Financial Times, Brexit minister David Frost accuses Europe of’bureaucratic inflexibility’. Frost, who co-negotiated the divorce treaty, suggests in the letter that he did not know the consequences of the Northern Ireland deal. He asks Europe to use common sense and to allow more flexibility for trade between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Frost’s outburst is yet another manifestation of bad faith on the part of the Johnson government. ‘London has been at war for some time now, say EU experts. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his team are well aware of the consequences of their Brexit choices, including for the supply chains in Northern Ireland. Europe and London chose to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Customs and product controls in Northern Ireland ports would be introduced to prevent goods from flowing freely through Northern Ireland into the European internal market.
Johnson and Frost have been preying for derogations, permanent changes and greater flexibility for Northern Ireland for a year and a half. It’s an ideological fight. In March, the British government unilaterally and without consultation decided to postpone product and customs controls until at least October. But the technical implementation of the protocol on Northern Ireland is also flawed. The databases for customs control are still not connected. Not only is the IT structure missing, there are also insufficient trained staff for the controls.
On Wednesday, Frost meets with European Commissioner Maros Sefcovic in London for the first time physically to discuss how to tackle the problems of Northern Ireland. Last week, Sefcovic gave EU ambassadors a shocking picture of London’s tactics. It put a lot of bad blood in many capitals. The willingness to come across is dwindling, can be heard.
Europe is counting on US president Joe Biden Johnson to lecture at the G7 summit in Cornwall on Friday. With his Irish roots, Biden is very committed to peace on the island of Ireland. To fuel the animosity in Northern Ireland is to play with fire, according to the European Union.
‘We hear very clearly what the problems are in Northern Ireland. And we want to look for solutions’, stress EU experts. For example, Europe is looking at whether medicines and assistance dogs, among other things, can hit Northern Ireland with fewer checks and paperwork. A temporary veterinary agreement may facilitate trade in meat.
‘But the first requirement is for London to apply the Irish protocol signed with Europe. Otherwise, we have no way of verifying whether the food remains in Northern Ireland.’