In Northern Ireland, Newtownards, a double-decker bus was hijacked on Monday morning and set on fire by armed men. The action, according to the Belfast administration, may have been the work of opponents of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The latter concerns the agreements made by the EU and the UK on Northern Ireland in the framework of Brexit.
It is not clear whether the hijacking of the bus is the social unrest that Brexit minister David Frost refers to in a newly published research report by think tank Policy Exchange.
Frost accused Brussels of being too tough in the negotiations on adjusting border controls between the UK and Northern Ireland “without taking into account the great political, economic sensitivities” in the area.
The minister even goes so far as to accuse the EU of “community-wide consent” for the situation after having “destroyed” Brexit by the “too strict” implementation of the Protocol. An agreement which, incidentally, was fully supported by the UK in 2019. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson then called it a‘ready-made excellent deal’.
These harsh words of Frost come just before the two parties sit around the table again about this syrupy issue and will undoubtedly cause frustration in Brussels.
For months there has been unrest over the political impasse between London and Brussels over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
As agreed in the Brexit agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, all goods transported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland must comply with European rules. Border controls are carried out in the ports of Northern Ireland, rather than at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
A land border would reignite the Northern Ireland conflict. However, according to London, this sea border creates empty shelves in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland residents who have a close relationship with the British feel that their exceptional position treats them as second-class citizens.
Moreover, the difficulties at the Northern Irish border with imports of goods from Scotland, England and Wales make Northern Irish entrepreneurs prefer to obtain products and services directly from EU member state Ireland. This economic incentive inadvertently encourages the integration of Northern Ireland and Ireland. A result of Brexit that many British-minded Northern Ireland are not waiting for either.
According to the news site Politico, the EU is now in doubt whether the British government really wants to get out of the impasse over Northern Ireland.
Brussels has already presented compromises that were rejected in advance by Brexit minister Frost.
In The Telegraph, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič writes that he is “increasingly concerned” about the “refusal of the British government to cooperate” to resolve this issue. Šefčovič is afraid that London is ” looking for a confrontation.”
In Brussels, therefore, there is a suspicion that Boris Johnson, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, intends to pull the plug on the Northern Ireland Protocol. This will trigger a trade war with Europe.
The fight with France is also getting out of hand
The threat of a trade war is no lessened by the high-profile dispute between the UK and France over fishing rights.
On Monday morning, the British government announced that it would take legal action if Paris did not withdraw threats within 48 hours about banning British boats in French ports and introducing additional customs controls on British goods.
The French government is demanding that more French fishing boats be allowed to fish in British waters. The UK has introduced this year that only fishermen who have previously been active in the waters will be licensed. According to France, this limits smaller operators who also want to fish in British waters.
London and Paris have been arguing for some time about the fishing licences that need to be issued because of Brexit. Both countries feel that the other is not keeping to the agreements.