News Analysis: Northern Ireland Protocol puts strain on UK-EU relations

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, July 22, 2021
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LONDON, July 22 (Xinhua) -- Post-Brexit relationship between Britain and the European Union (EU) has become fractious as disagreement continues to stem from the Northern Ireland Protocol and lasting solutions seem to be elusive.

The British government unveiled a command paper on Wednesday for significant changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the Brexit deal that stipulates Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market and customs union to avoid a hard border between the region and the Republic of Ireland.

More than six months after Brexit, Britain said the way the protocol is operating is unacceptable because its rigid implementation has severely disrupted trade, adversely affected consumers, hit businesses in Northern Ireland and Great Britain and contributed to political instability.

"The Protocol has failed to deliver on some of its core objectives and we cannot ignore the political, societal, and economic difficulties this continues to create in Northern Ireland," Britain's Brexit minister David Frost said while publishing the government paper.

"That is why we need a new approach based on negotiation and the finding of a new and enduring consensus. There is a real opportunity to move forward in a way that protects the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and put UK-EU relations on a stable footing," Frost said.

However, the EU has rejected the British offer to overhaul the protocol. European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said in a statement that respecting international legal obligations is of paramount importance.

"We are ready to continue to seek creative solutions, within the framework of the Protocol, in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland. However, we will not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol," Sefcovic said.

David Phinnemore, professor of European politics at the Queen's University Belfast, believed that both sides are not seeing eye-to-eye on the interpretation of the protocol itself.

"From the EU's perspective, the UK is not implementing what it signed up to, particularly around checks and controls. From the UK perspective, the EU is arguably asking too much because the implementation of the protocol is causing political difficulties on the ground. And for a lot of people, it seems to be unacceptable the disruption that it has caused and the concerns that it is raising," Phinnemore told Xinhua in an interview.

Analysts said tensions between Britain and the EU will continue as the light-touch checks under the extended grace period for supermarket products will expire at the end of September.

Marks & Spencer Chairman Archie Norman told the BBC that it is already cutting Christmas products in Northern Ireland due to concerns over forthcoming post-Brexit customs checks, warning that the changes could mean higher prices and less choice for Northern Ireland customers.

"What businesses are concerned about is there's more uncertainty to come because some of the effects of the protocol have been delayed. Later on in the year, at the beginning of October, another so called grace period ends when certification around the movement of agricultural and food products needs to be implemented," Phinnemore said.

Phinnemore said the indications are that the two sides recognize there are a number of options on the table, and the willingness to try and find a solution.

"But it takes time. And we probably are moving a little more slowly than people anticipated," he said, expecting Northern Ireland is going to remain on the agenda for at least this year.

He noted that the political effect of the protocol has been far-reaching as this has really upset unionists because they realize that Northern Ireland is being treated differently.

The post-Brexit Northern Ireland arrangement leads to a new "regulatory" border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which exacerbates the conflicts between pro-Britain and pro-independence groups in Northern Ireland.

Protests and riots raged for days in April in Northern Ireland, which partly led to the resignation of Edwin Poots, chief of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, after only three weeks in the post. Enditem

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