A vote that reignites the wick of divisions within the Conservative Party on how to make Brexit a reality. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday March 22 that he would oppose the agreement reached between London and Brussels on trade rules in Northern Ireland, for which a vote is scheduled for Wednesday in Parliament, and which is causing divisions among the Conservatives.
” This is unacceptable. I will vote against the proposed arrangements”said Mr. Johnson in a press release published on Wednesday morning, a few hours before the vote, but also before his hearing by a commission of inquiry into the scandals of the parties organized in Downing Street during the Covid-19 pandemic.
British MPs will vote on one of the elements of this agreement, dubbed the “Windsor framework” and signed on February 27 between the new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. This is a measure, called “Stormont brake” from the name of the building housing the Northern Irish Parliament, allowing the deputies of the province to block the application of new trade rules voted in Brussels, and likely to be apply in Northern Ireland.
“The proposed arrangements would either mean that Northern Ireland remains captive to European Union rules – and would thus gradually diverge from the rest of the UK – or they would mean that the whole of the UK is unable to emancipate itself properly [de l’UE] and benefit from Brexit”, criticized Mr Johnson. And he urged the government to adopt the law he himself had defended to unilaterally withdraw the United Kingdom from the protocol signed with Brussels and governing the status of Northern Ireland.
The outcome of the vote is announced without real surprise, the majority of the conservatives and the Labor opposition having to decide in favor of the text, but it causes divisions in the conservative ranks.
A group of Conservative MPs, united in the European Research Group (ERG), criticized the “Stormont brake”, believing that it would “in practice unusable”. They regret “that no EU law be (…) removed in Northern Ireland, contrary to what was stated” the government. This dozen Eurosceptic deputies, once very influential but whose weight has been reduced within the Tories, have not yet decided whether they will oppose the text or abstain from the vote.
This agreement is also criticized in Northern Ireland by the unionists of the DUP, whose party has paralyzed local institutions for almost a year to oppose the post-Brexit status of the province. Its eight members of the British Parliament have already said they would vote against the text.
The Windsor deal aims to drastically reduce the customs controls needed on goods coming from Britain and arriving in Northern Ireland. It must also, if approved by British parliamentarians, reduce the application of EU regulations in the British province.
Concretely, products arriving from Great Britain in Northern Ireland to stay there will no longer be subject to the same controls as those destined to be then exported to the Republic of Ireland, that is to say to the European Union. This will apply to commercial exchanges, such as the sending of parcels by individuals. The British authorities, and no longer the European Medicines Agency, will issue marketing authorizations for medicines. The maintenance of certain European laws and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland was one of the main sticking points of the protocol for the Unionists.