The trade conflict between the European Union and the United Kingdom (UK) over Northern Ireland’s border controls has rekindled. Prime minister Boris Johnson wants the EU to agree to a compromise in the dispute over the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. If this is not the case, he is willing to resort to an arrangement that allows the UK to unilaterally withdraw from part of the Brexit deal.
That’s what he told me in an interview with Sky News on Saturday. In it, he stated that the United Kingdom ‘will of course not hesitate to invoke Article 16’ of the Northern Ireland protocol. According to Johnson, the current implementation of the protocol has a “harmful impact” on people in Northern Ireland.
In Article 16, the British Prime Minister refers to a special clause that allows the United Kingdom and the European Union to unilaterally set aside parts of the agreement. This is possible if there are serious economic, social or environmental problems that persist for a long time. This will make a hard border between the UK and the EU a reality, which has been a pivotal point in the Brexit negotiations for many years.
The Northern Ireland protocol provides for border controls between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and neighbouring Ireland, which is part of the European Union. After Brexit, border controls between the two countries should have been established, but that is a tricky issue because of the so-called Good Friday Agreement of 1998. In that peace agreement, Ireland and Northern Ireland agreed that the border between the two countries would remain forever free of controls.
In order to protect the agreement, it was agreed during the Brexit negotiations that there will be no hard land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Instead, internal controls would be introduced between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (both belonging to the United Kingdom).
But the British want to reconsider that promise. The UK authorities unilaterally decided to postpone the introduction of these controls until at least 1 October, to the EU’s great displeasure.
At the G7 summit, which is currently taking place in Cornwall, England, Johnson had a series of face-to-face meetings with other European leaders. They urged Johnson that Britain ‘should adhere to the Brexit agreements’.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, among others, said that Johnson should keep his word.
“I’ve spoken to some of our friends here today, but they don’t seem to understand that the UK is one country, one territory,” the PM responded in the interview.
He also pointed out that in January it was precisely the EU that invoked Article 16. By introducing controls, Brussels wanted to prevent coronavirus vaccines from the Swedish-British Pharmaceutical Company AstraZeneca produced in the EU from entering the UK easily through Northern Ireland. In the end, the EU decided not to introduce controls at the Northern Irish border.
On Sunday, reports came out that French president Emmanuel Macron said during a meeting with Boris Johnson that Northern Ireland is not really part of the United Kingdom. An angry Johnson would have asked Macron how he would react if sausages from Toulouse could not be sold in Paris. They talk about sausage war because it concerns, among other things, the transport of chilled meat from the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland.
The statements of European leaders overshadow the G7 summit, which is dedicated to working together against the coronavirus pandemic by helping poor countries, among other things, to build infrastructure (by stuffing them with loans!) and distribute coronavirus vaccines worldwide.