For the first time since June last year, the joint UK-EU Committee to deal with Brexit will meet again soon, reports Politico. A preliminary deal may be made on one of the loose ends in the agreement on trade with Northern Ireland. That would be about medicine. The remaining points of conflict are expected to be put on hold until after the parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland on 5 May. Negotiations between EU Commissioner Ume and Conservative foreign minister Liz Truss (pictured) have so far yielded little. In London they are still busy with other things. As usual.
Last week, Northern Ireland Prime Minister Paul Givan of the Protestant DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) resigned in protest against the trade protocol. The DUP believes that the entire agreement should be removed. Now trade with Ireland threatens to become easier for the Northern Irish than trade with England and that is a thorn in the side of the Unionists. They fear that this will eventually lead to unity on the island of Ireland, a nightmare for the Protestants who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. According to the DUP, Northern Ireland should have full participation in the trade agreement. Now, in fact, it is an agreement on the UK’s exit from the EU that is concluded between London and Brussels. According to Givan, this is contrary to the 1998 peace agreement between Catholics and Protestants.
The DUP plays high game. Agriculture minister Edwin Poots warned that sharing power with Catholics in the Northern Ireland government will end if the EU sticks to the protocol. He last week ordered his officials to stop checks on imports from the UK into Northern Ireland ports. British Prime Minister Johnson’s admonition to use common sense had no effect. But there is little else to be expected from the British government. London does not want to interfere in Northern Ireland’s decisions. The European Commission believes, as expected, that the British government, as a subscriber to the protocol, must comply with the agreed obligations. An interruption of controls would constitute an “absolute violation of international law”, the Commission said. For the time being, the checks still seem to continue and Poots ‘ assignment looks more like an election stunt, they say in Brussels.
Poots also disputes a preliminary ruling by the Belfast court that checks should be resumed. For some products, there is still a tolerance period in which the provisions of the Trade Protocol do not have to be applied. If that period ends, gigantic problems will arise in the Northern Irish ports, Poots expects. Entrepreneurs are less afraid of it. Keep calm and carry on, says an investment advisor who disagrees with the DUP.
The Northern Irish Government (Executive of the Assembly, Parliament) consists of five parties of both Protestants and Catholics. It is a shaky whole with a parliament that, since The’ Good Friday Agreement ‘ of 1998 with which the peace was signed, has been shut down twice for a long period of time because of ongoing conflicts. Because the British minister for Northern Ireland is not prepared to bring the elections forward, no important decisions can now be taken until 5 May.
The DUP has lost popularity lately. The resignation of Givan may have to do with the fear of losing votes to more outspoken unionists such as the UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) and the divisional TUV (Traditional Unionist Voice). The Republican Sinn Fein is on the win according to the latest polls. This may result in a majority for the implementation of the trade protocol. But if DUP stays firm on the protocol and then refuses to rule with a Sinn Fein prime minister, then Northern Ireland is facing a difficult period. The DUP is most likely necessary for a new unit Executive. And without a broadly composed government, the peace agreement will be called into question.
Liz Truss has recently promised to be tough in the negotiations with the EU Commission. She believes that the protocol no longer works ‘because it has lost the consent of the unionist community because of the fear that their identity – together with the integrity of our country – is threatened. They point to a fundamental truth: that Northern Ireland’s prosperity is largely related to its place in the UK’s single market.’We tried it with the protocol, she says. But our extensive efforts are unable to resolve the myriad problems that arise, as it is clear that there are intrinsic errors with the current arrangements that need to be remedied. Unnecessary paperwork has prevented hundreds of companies from trading within the UK. Rules frustrate attempts to bring everything to Northern Ireland, from beloved pets to crucial medicines. Truss also does not recognize the European Court as an arbitrator in conflicts over the implementation of the protocol, a weighty negotiating point on the part of the EU.
Thus the British government will come a long way towards the DUP, but whether it is enough will still have to be seen. What the Northern Irish people think about it will not be known until the beginning of May.