Johnson prepares a new confrontation with Brussels for the inclusion of Northern Ireland in the EU | International

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The pomp and circumstance surrounding the opening of a new session of the British Parliament is capable of camouflaging any time bomb. Much more so in the year in which Charles of England replaced his mother, Elizabeth II, for the first time in the reading of the so-called Queen’s Speech. This is the program of laws and measures for the new political course promoted by the government of the day, in this case that of Boris Johnson.

Among all the announcements on Tuesday, a brief paragraph has not gone unnoticed by all those who have spent years dissecting the confrontations and reconciliations carried out by London and Brussels since the Brexit nightmare broke out. “My Government will give priority to supporting the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement [el acuerdo de paz de 1998 que terminó con décadas de violencia sectaria en Irlanda del Norte] and to the institutions it set in motion. That support will include legislation to respond to the legacy of the past, ”read the Prince of Wales, with a monotone tone that failed to reduce the seriousness of the announcement.

To understand the message, it is necessary to decode it. First: the Johnson government has been denouncing for months, according to its way of understanding things, that the Northern Ireland protocol, which London and Brussels signed together with the withdrawal agreement to carry out Brexit, is endangering political stability and society of that British region. London has bought the argument of the unionist forces, who felt betrayed by Johnson when he agreed with the EU that Northern Ireland would remain within the community internal market, and have since called for the disappearance of the protocol.

Second: the historic victory of the Sinn Féin Republicans in last Thursday’s regional elections has put the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on the ropes, trapped in its own arguments. This has announced a blockade of the formation of the new autonomous government until the issue of the protocol is addressed.

Third: if the sectarian street violence, the discomfort among the unionists and the irritation of the most Eurosceptic sector of the Conservative Party have already managed to make the Johnson government nervous, the new situation created with the victory of Sinn Féin has added reasons for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Liz Truss, go ahead with her plan to unilaterally revoke, through new laws, fundamental parts of the agreement signed with Brussels, according to the newspaper The Timeseven if his decision leads to a trade war with the EU.

A few hours after hearing the Queen’s Speech, the EU’s main negotiator, Maros Sefkovc, warned in a statement that the Irish Protocol “is not renegotiable”, it has the force of an international treaty and all the members of the European Union are united in this approach. “Only joint solutions will work. Unilateral action by the United Kingdom will only make it more difficult to reach possible solutions,” he said in a harsh text, in which he asked the Johnson government for “the same level of determination and creativity” displayed by Brussels, as well as “political will and authentic commitment” to reach solutions.

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Business and bureaucratic frictions

At the same time that the approaching maneuver was announced in the Queen’s Speech, Johnson himself, in a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister of Ireland, Micheál Martin —the EU country most concerned about the consequences of a new crisis in around Northern Ireland—corroborated his intention, by making it clear to his counterpart that the protocol “was not sustained in its current formulation”, as had been demonstrated after the result of the last regional elections. “The balance achieved through the Good Friday Agreement has been undermined,” said a British government spokesman.

London and Brussels agreed to the permanence of Northern Ireland in the EU internal market to avoid the introduction of customs controls that would once again suggest a division of the island. The peace agreement succeeded in creating the illusion of an invisible border, and any reminder that there are two Irelands could fuel sectarian tension. The new customs border agreed upon in Brexit would be the Irish Sea.

The application of the protocol immediately revealed commercial and bureaucratic frictions that have made trade between Great Britain (the island that integrates England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland (the fourth territory that integrates the United Kingdom) more expensive and difficult. The Northern Irish business community does not want to scrap the protocol. Ultimately, it guarantees the best of both worlds. The British territory is still within the United Kingdom, but it has access to a market as important as the EU.

The business world calls for reforms, to correct the difficulties that have arisen, for example, when sending generic medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, or when large British supermarkets restock their surfaces in Northern Ireland.

The EU negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, even offered a suppression of up to 80% of the customs and health controls established in the protocol. Nothing was enough for the Johnson Government, which had turned its battle against the Protocol into a matter of sovereignty, and not a problem for which a technical solution was sufficient.

For months, British government negotiators (first David Frost, now Minister Truss) have threatened to invoke Article 16 of the Protocol, a mechanism that allows the unilateral suspension of its provisions when “serious economic, social and or environmental”. In recent weeks, the Johnson Government has taken a step forward in its defiance of international legality, and has circulated in the media its intention to approve new legislation that allows its ministers to unilaterally change those parts of the Protocol that do not convince them.

“I do not think it is the right decision, because it would be detrimental to the United Kingdom and its reputation as a country that respects international law,” Johnson’s predecessor in office, Theresa May, warned during the parliamentary debate after the Queen’s speech. The Prime Minister has limited himself to a wry smile as he shook his head at May’s claims.

The Times has anticipated this Tuesday that the Truss team has already ready the text that it will take to Parliament, by which it will cancel the customs controls of the products that travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland; it will eliminate EU quality standards that are now in force in that territory; and, above all, it will put an end to the mission of the Court of Justice of the EU —the black beast of the Eurosceptic conservatives— of controlling the proper functioning of the internal market in the Northern Irish region. Truss’s team has already warned the minister, according to The Timeswhich must be prepared for a resounding response from Brussels, which will probably involve the suspension of all collaboration in other areas, except the current war in Ukraine.

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