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Northern Ireland: the trade war between London and Brussels? | Economy

Northern Ireland: the trade war between London and Brussels?  |  Economy


If the British government were to table a bill next week that would override the Northern Ireland protocol, the European Union would probably have to suspend its trade agreement with the United Kingdom, according to a European source at the Bloomberg agency.

The Commission could launch legal proceedings against the United Kingdom in the event of a unilateral action by London. And even proposing to the Member States to suspend the trade agreement which entered into force last year, not without providing for a transitional period before the imposition of tariffs, quotas and other trade barriers, according to this source, which does not deny the risk of British-European trade war.

Tensions

Tensions around Northern Ireland have flared up again after the elections in the British province: the United Kingdom drew warnings from Europeans on Tuesday after Boris Johnson deemed the post-status “untenable” -Brexit of the province. The historic victory of the Republicans of Sinn Fein, in favor of reunification with the Republic of Ireland, during the renewal of the Local Assembly on Thursday has indeed put the post-Brexit arrangements at the heart of the discussions.

Now in second position, the Unionists supposed to share power with them, refuse to form a government without renouncing certain customs controls established between Great Britain and the province – an unacceptable border according to them within the United Kingdom.

The dispute between London, which wants to renegotiate everything in depth, and Brussels, which says it is only ready for accommodation, threatens to degenerate into a trade war. “Recent elections have shown yet again that the protocol is unsustainable in its current form,” Boris Johnson warned in an interview with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, according to Downing Street.

A “very serious” situation in Northern Ireland, according to Boris Johnson

Describing the situation in the British province as “very serious”, Mr Johnson assured that “the British government would take action to protect peace and political stability in Northern Ireland if solutions could not be found”.

Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson. © REUTERS

For his part, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin expressed his “serious concern about unilateral actions (by the United Kingdom), which would destabilize Northern Ireland and erode confidence”.

According to the daily The Times, British Foreign Minister Liz Truss plans to act next week, in particular suspending the obligation to control goods coming from Great Britain and intended for consumption in the province.

“Renegotiation is not an option”, warns Brussels

“Renegotiation (of the agreement) is not an option,” said the vice-president of the European Commission in charge of the file, Maros Sefcovic. If the EU remains open to dialogue on the establishment of the protocol, “unilateral measures from the United Kingdom will only complicate our task”, he considered. Mr. Sefcovic is due to meet Ms. Truss this Thursday.


The customs system introduced by the protocol aims to avoid the return of a physical border between the province and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU. Unionists attached to remaining within the British crown oppose it, because they see it as a threat to the place of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and fear that the border in the Irish Sea which it introduced in fact according to them goes in the direction of a reunification of the island of Ireland.

On both sides, there are fears that the peace achieved almost 25 years ago after three decades of “trouble” between Unionists, especially Protestants, and Republicans, mainly Catholics, will be called into question.

In the immediate term, the dispute paralyzes Northern Irish institutions, with the Unionists of the DUP, now the second force in the Local Assembly, rejecting urgent calls from Sinn Fein to quickly form an executive, supposed to be shared under the agreement peace of 1998.



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