Boris Johnson takes the risk of provoking a new and deep crisis between the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU), despite the war in Ukraine. Less than three years after signing the Brexit agreement with Brussels, the British Prime Minister unilaterally calls into question a crucial part of this international treaty. With the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, a bill announced in May, published and officially tabled in the House of Commons on Monday June 13, Downing Street intends to get rid of entire sections of the Northern Irish protocol, a text sparing the unique and dual position Northern Ireland, which remains part of the European internal market despite being one of the nations of the United Kingdom – the aim being to avoid a “hard” border on the island of Ireland.
The bill drastically lightens the customs controls introduced by the protocol in the Irish Sea, by removing all controls for products coming from Great Britain intended for the Northern Irish market (only products likely to be sold in the Republic of Ireland would still be checked). The text also eliminates the supervisory role of the protocol by the Court of Justice of the European Union and gives British ministers the right to modify almost everything else in the protocol (the regime of state aid, VAT, etc. ).
The stated aim of Liz Truss, the British Foreign Secretary, is to ” protect “ the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998 (having put an end to the civil war between unionists, loyal to London, and nationalists, supporters of the reunification of Ireland), which, according to him, would be destabilized by the protocol, Unionists considering it a serious attack on their British identity. Boris Johnson’s less avowed aim is to convince the DUP, the main unionist party, to agree to form an executive with the nationalists in Belfast. The leaders of the DUP believe that the head of government betrayed them by promising them, at the end of 2019, that the protocol would not introduce ” none “ control in the Irish Sea, and are now blackmailing Downing Street into getting rid of it.
Avalanche of negative reactions
For Europeans, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is a clear breach of the UK’s international commitments. Simon Coveney, the Irish Foreign Minister, regretted a text which, if adopted, “would breach Britain’s commitments under international law”. The Vice-President of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, denounced a “unilateral action undermining mutual trust”. And he announced that the Commission was considering relaunching the infringement procedure it had initiated in March 2021 when London had – already – decided unilaterally to extend the grace period during which customs controls did not apply at sea. Ireland, the time that the economic circles adapt.
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