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The UK has escalated its dispute with the European Union over Northern Ireland


LONDON – One of the most complex and troubling elements of Brexit: Britain is set to face a new confrontation with the European Union on Tuesday, demanding a replacement of Northern Ireland.

In a speech to diplomats in Lisbon, David Frost, the Brexit minister in the Conservative government, called for a review of an agreement on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom but shares politically sensitive land borders with Ireland. , A country in the European Union.

The move is a serious step in the midst of a heated debate over how Northern Ireland would fit in with the British exit from the European Union. The new text proposed by Mr F. Frost for trade rules, called the Northern Ireland Protocol, omits some elements that Prime Minister Boris Johnson adopted less than two years ago and contains ideas that the European Union has already rejected.

“We’re in a very serious situation right now – the protocol isn’t working,” he said. Frost said the agreement was doing the opposite, rather than defending a fragile peace process in Northern Ireland.

“The protocol represents a moment of exaggeration in the European Union, when the UK’s negotiating hands were tied, and therefore cannot reasonably survive in its current form,” Front said. Reject the idea of ​​changing it “It would be a historic misconception.”

His speech served as a pre-zero strike, coming just a day before the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, was supposed to present its own plan to address the problems it acknowledges, mainly with trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Although soft-spoken and personable, Mr. Frost is a hardliner, whose aggressive negotiating style has been welcomed by Brexit supporters who believe Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, was pushed by Brussels. Thus, some were surprised that his speech raised the temperature on an inflammatory subject.

But notably, Mr. Frost also called for a change in the role of Europe’s top court in the trial – an abstract but politically sensitive issue that the European Union is unlikely to recognize.

This has led to speculation that the demand is a discount chip that will be traded for other discounts. An alternative theory is that it is designed to provoke a full-blown crisis that could lead to Mr Johnson suspending part of the protocol, blaming the European Union and keeping pro-Brexit sentiment at home.

It will probably take revenge on the European Union and possibly a trade war with the 2-nation bloc that Britain officially abandoned in January 2020.

Designed to avoid a resurgence of a difficult border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, the protocol has led to testing of products flowing from Britain to Northern Ireland.

This is to protect the integrity of the huge single market of the European Union of which Ireland is a part. But it has angered unionists in Northern Ireland who see their place in the UK as the center of their identity and who are dissatisfied with the checks on goods flowing from mainland Britain, which is part of the same country.

Mr Johnson has the power to suspend some parts of the protocol under Article 16 of the Brexit agreement, but he is unlikely to do so before the climate conference, COP26, the UK host in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Canceling some protocols could escalate tensions between Mr Johnson and President Biden. The American president is proud of his Irish heritage and has made clear his commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland that ended with the Good Friday Agreement, known as “The Troubles” in 1998 after decades of bloody conflict.

While some analysts believe that Mr. Johnson wants to move away from the protocol to please Brexit hard-liners, others believe Mr. Frost sees Tuesday’s speech as an intervention designed to reduce Brussels’ influence in any part of Britain and to uphold British sovereignty.

“Frost – a trusted Brexitist – sees this attempt to revise or coordinate the protocol as the ultimate way to weaken relations between the UK and the EU.”

Britain, he added, appears to be “trying to violate the last vestiges of sovereignty from the EU”.

Tuesday’s speech follows months of tensions over trade disruptions between Britain and Northern Ireland, including the flow of some goods such as chilled meat, a rift known as the “sausage war”. What has paved the way for snipping in recent days is that Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coweny has questioned whether Britain actually wants a deal, and Mr. Frost has refused to hear allegations against his European counterparts.

Britain argues that the protocol is being applied unnecessarily heavily, while European officials have accused Johnson of violating an agreement he made on his own.

In response to a question after his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Frost said when Britain agreed to the protocol, it knew it was taking a risk. “We hoped we were wrong and the protocol would work,” he said. “It turned out we were fine.”

The European Union has repeatedly rejected calls for Britain to reconsider its agreement. It specifically opposes the removal of the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice and the Supreme Court of the block as the final arbitrator of the dispute.

In response to a quote from a speech to the British media on Monday, EU Commission spokesman Eric Mamer described London’s demand for the court’s removal as unacceptable and said “we have covered a million times.”

Brussels often insists that the British government has signed the agreement, which Mr. Frost himself discussed and that is now international law.

Daniel Ferry, another spokesman for the commission, said European court surveillance was essential to providing legal consistency and a functioning business environment across the single market.

By removing the court, Mr. “This means effectively isolating Northern Ireland from the EU’s single market and related opportunities,” Ferry said.

On Wednesday, the commission will propose the smooth implementation of the protocol. The measures are expected to ease food and plant safety tests to ease restrictions on the cold meat trade from Britain to Northern Ireland. This can simplify some customs checks and drug delivery checks.

The Commission will also offer some ideas on how to involve Northern Irish citizens, business owners and politicians in overseeing the agreement.

But Mr. Frost’s intervention suggests that such concessions would rarely be sufficient, which would set the scene for a few weeks of heated discussions.

Ms Hayward said there was a risk for Northern Ireland that Mr Frost’s approach would do little to reassure the unionist community about the safety of their place in the UK, while raising unrealistic expectations about the possibility of a completely new deal.

“If you want to prioritize the peace process over protocol and negotiations with the EU, you will not go the way the British government has done.”

Stephen Castle Reports from London and Steven Erlanger From Brussels.



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