Everyone saw it coming. That is why Theresa May’s agreement with the EU was different. That’s why that British government, knocked down by the hard wing of the Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson, agreed the remembered backstop, which meant that the Brexit would be less hard and the UK would remain in the EU customs union – although not in the single market. But that was too little Brexit for Johnson and his people. And they knocked May down and demanded a new protocol for Northern Ireland, which leads, de facto, to the Irish Sea becoming a border with Britain and leaving Northern Ireland separated from the rest of the UK. And to install customs controls in Northern Ireland because, after that, there is no border with the Republic of Ireland under the Good Friday Peace Agreement.
The EU opens negotiations with the UK on Gibraltar after the agreement between London and Madrid that allows the fence to be lifted.
And now the British government is not stopping to take a reality check and to challenge the agreement signed by Johnson himself: the customs controls are slow; the unionists, traditional allies of the British Conservative Party, are on the warpath; the worst ghosts of the past are returning to Ireland; tensions with the EU marked the G7 meeting in Cornwall with pressure from Joe Biden on Johnson included? And he keeps unilaterally extending moratoriums on customs controls, including on fresh meat, unleashing wars like the one over sausages.
Why? Because the Irish protocol, the fruit of Johnson’s efforts, creates so many problems that it is not being applied.
Meanwhile, Brussels and London are trying to negotiate an exit but the solution is complicated because the protocol says what it says. Thus, the British government is threatening on Wednesday not to comply with it unless it is modified. That is, it threatens to skip the Brexit agreement, something it already did at the end of last year with the British Internal Market Bill, which was finally amended so as not to violate the Brexit agreement in what had to do with the aforementioned protocol of Northern Ireland.
Indeed, in a 28-page document distributed on Wednesday, the Johnson government states: “The Protocol is not being shelved, but significant changes are needed to achieve a sustainable ‘new balance’ that puts the relationship between the UK and the EU on a stable footing. This is the only way to secure the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. The Government has today, Wednesday 21 July, published a Command Paper stating that it is seeking to negotiate significant changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, and describing how the Protocol is failing to meet some of its core objectives of minimising disruption to everyday life, respecting Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market and preserving the delicate balance of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.”
EU negotiator, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, has responded with a refusal to “rewrite the Northern Ireland Protocol” with a note: “The Protocol on Ireland is the solution that the EU found with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Lord David Frost, and was ratified by the UK Parliament, to address the unique challenges posed by Brexit and the type of Brexit chosen by the British Government for the island of Ireland. It aims to protect the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast) in all its parts, maintain peace and stability in Northern Ireland, avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and preserve the integrity of the EU single market. For these objectives to be achieved, the Protocol must be implemented. Respect for international legal obligations is of paramount importance”.
Downing Street says that “the Government has tried to implement the Protocol in good faith, but the problems are significant and growing. The Government therefore wants to agree a sustainable solution that strikes a new balance that better reflects Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances and meets all the objectives of the Protocol. The economic, political and cultural links that exist East-West [Northern Ireland-Britain] must be treated with the same sensitivity as those that exist North-South. This is essential to ensure that UK-EU relations are placed on a stable and more positive trajectory.”
In this regard, the Johnson government threatens not to comply with the agreement: “The Command Paper makes clear that the Government has considered triggering Article 16 [which exempts compliance with the protocol] and believes there are clear grounds to justify its use. This option remains within the framework of the Protocol. However, we do not believe it is in Northern Ireland’s best interests to invoke safeguard measures at this time. We would prefer to seek a consensual approach with the EU, to agree stable and lasting solutions that can work.The EU’s future will be a major challenge for Northern Ireland, the UK as a whole and the EU in the future”.
Brussels, for its part, responds that “the EU has sought practical and flexible solutions to overcome the difficulties that the citizens of Northern Ireland are experiencing with regard to the implementation of the Protocol. For example, on 30 June, the European Commission presented a package of measures to address certain urgent problems, including changing our own rules to ensure the long-term supply of medicines from Britain to Northern Ireland. We are prepared to continue to seek creative solutions, within the framework of the Protocol, in the interests of all communities in Northern Ireland. However, we will not accept a renegotiation of the Protocol. We look forward to speaking to Lord Frost soon.
Statement by @EU_Commission Vice-President @MarosSefcovic following today’s announcement by the UK government regarding the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Irelandhttps://t.co/zCQrbnvlOv-
Tim McPhie (@TimMcPhieEU) July 21, 2021
Michael Frost, Johnson’s negotiator with the EU, said: “The Protocol has failed to deliver on some of its core objectives and we cannot ignore the political, social and economic difficulties this continues to create in Northern Ireland. That is why we need a new approach based on negotiation and the search for a new and lasting consensus”.
Problems with Gibraltar
The UK’s Northern Ireland ordeal comes 24 hours after it raised problems with the European Commission’s mandate to negotiate the EU-UK deal on Gibraltar.
“The UK, Gibraltar and Spain agreed a pragmatic Framework Agreement, in coordination with the European Commission,” says the British Government: “And the Commission’s proposed mandate, published today, directly conflicts with that Framework. It seeks to undermine the United Kingdom’s sovereignty over Gibraltar and cannot form a basis for negotiations. We have consistently demonstrated pragmatism and flexibility in seeking arrangements that work for all parties, and we are disappointed that this has not been reciprocated. We urge the EU to rethink this.”
And what is the UK’s problem? That the agreement with Spain, the result of six months of work, establishes that Spain will be the EU member state “responsible” for the application of Schengen in Gibraltar, although for a transitional period of four years it will be assisted by Frontex. The inclusion of Gibraltar in the Schengen area means that Spain will be “responsible” for the application of Schengen in Gibraltar.This means that British nationals travelling to the region will have to go through some form of passport control at the border, while Spanish nationals will be able to cross freely.
But in the mandate approved by the European Commission on Tuesday, the role of Frontex is removed. And Spain is given the leading role: “In order to ensure full protection of the Schengen area, control and surveillance of the external borders would be carried out at the port, airport and waters of Gibraltar by Spain applying the relevant EU rules. The border crossing points to be established at the port and airport would allow for the application of the relevant EU legislation, including the implementation and use of the databases necessary for border controls. Spanish border guards would have all the necessary powers to carry out border checks and surveillance and the ensuing obligations, including with regard to acting on alerts in the databases (e.g. to refuse entry). In case of alerts, including refusal of entry and arrest, Spain would take follow-up action and, if necessary, the United Kingdom authorities in respect of Gibraltar would assist and facilitate the implementation of the alert, such as the transfer of the person or object in question to the authorities in Spain”.
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, EU negotiator during post-Brexit, said, “We are honouring the political commitment we made to Spain to start negotiations on a separate EU-UK agreement on Gibraltar. There is a mandate which aims to benefit those living and working on both sides of the border between Spain and Gibraltar, while protecting the integrity of the Schengen Area and the Single Market.”
Gibraltar was not included in the agreement for the future relationship after Brexit between the EU and UK on 24 December 2020. The European Commission then undertook to start negotiating a separate agreement on Gibraltar, if Spain so requested, which it has done. Therefore, the Commission is now recommending that the Council authorise the start of specific negotiations on Gibraltar.
The political agreement that will serve as the basis for the EU negotiation reached by Spain and the UK involves applying Schengen to Gibraltar and lifting the fence.
The agreement also allows for the incorporation of fair competition measures on taxation, environment and labour issues.
Approximately 15,000 EU workers cross the fence every day to work in Gibraltar.
“Spain appreciates and appreciates the effort made by the European Commission in approving a proposal for a mandate adapted to the understanding between Spain and the United Kingdom reached on 31 December,” said a government statement: “Spain will at all times accompany the European Commission to ensure that its legal positions, interests and objectives are safeguarded and that the commitments reached between Spain and the United Kingdom are respected. Spain wishes the negotiation to be concluded as soon as possible so that a new framework is quickly established to ensure shared prosperity for the benefit of all parties and, in particular, for the citizens of Campo de Gibraltar”.