The European Union faced with the cynicism of Boris Johnson

Husual, the maneuver is no less detestable. With each disappointment in domestic politics, Boris Johnson draws his ultimate weapon, the conflict with the European Union (EU), intended to mobilize his supporters and divert British opinion from its own turpitudes. This is evidenced by the presentation, on Monday June 13, in the Parliament of Westminster, of a bill deleting whole sections of the “Northern Irish protocol”, a sensitive part of the 2019 Brexit agreement with the EU.

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While he himself initialed this international treaty, the British Prime Minister is unilaterally questioning it on crucial points. The “protocol” aims to reconcile two objectives: to maintain an Ireland without borders in order to guarantee peace on the island, and to prevent Northern Ireland from becoming a fraudulent entry point into the single European market. To do this, Northern Ireland was given a mixed status: the province was kept both in the British customs area and in the EU single market.

Such an arrangement involves customs and health checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A constraint rejected by the DUP, the Northern Irish unionist party ally of Boris Johnson, whose elected officials refuse to sit in the local government of Belfast as long as the “protocol” with the EU is not repealed.

Mandate in peril

To satisfy them, Mr. Johnson wants to pass a law that removes controls for goods coming from Great Britain but destined for Northern Ireland. He also wants to withdraw control over state aid and VAT in the province from the Twenty-Seven. In addition, the text removes the role of arbitrator from the Court of Justice of the European Union in the event of a conflict.

The motives put forward by the Johnson government – the “protocol” would have destabilized the country – are not very credible: not only does Northern Ireland enjoy better economic health than the rest of the kingdom thanks to its privileged status, but the majority of Newly elected Northern Irish MPs defend ‘protocol’.

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In reality, the prime minister is seeking a diversion, days after 41% of his own party’s MPs denied him confidence, exposing Tory division and weakening his own position. Targeted by a parliamentary inquiry into his possible lies to MPs about the drunken Downing Street receptions during confinement, Mr. Johnson knows his mandate is in danger. The fate of the bill presented to the Commons is also uncertain: it could be rejected by the House of Lords, of which many members believe that it compromises the reputation of the international signature of the United Kingdom.

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In such a context, the European Union, whose compromise offers have been rejected, must not weaken. The infringement procedure against London, opened in 2021 but suspended during unsuccessful negotiations, must be relaunched. The possibility of customs retaliation measures should not be ruled out. The Twenty-Seven must continue to guarantee peace in Ireland. They cannot accept that Brexit leads to the creation, in Northern Ireland, of a breach in the single market, one of the foundations of the Union.

That Boris Johnson plays the conflict card with his neighbors at a time when the return of war on the continent requires unfailing European solidarity gives the measure of his cynicism and the risk of isolation he poses to the United Kingdom.

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