EU Offers UK Concessions on Northern Ireland Heres What the Spat Is About

Updated: October 14th, 2021 05:05 PM IST

Offers Concessions on Northern Ireland. Here’s What the Spat Is About.

EU Offers UK Concessions on Northern Ireland Heres What the Spat Is About

Britain is demanding an end to post-Brexit rules known as the Northern Ireland protocol. The European Union sees the rules as a key part of protecting its single market.

LONDON — For months, a battle over the status of Northern Ireland has been the thorniest legacy of Brexit, even sparking a conflict known as the “sausage wars.” Now, Britain has upped the ante by demanding that post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland that it agreed to two years ago be scrapped and replaced.

The European Union responded to that call Wednesday with a far-reaching plan to resolve practical problems raised by that Brexit treaty — the Northern Ireland protocol — that has provoked a full-scale confrontation between Britain and the bloc. It is a spat that could upset the United States.

The protocol aims to resolve one of the most complex issues created by Brexit: what to do about the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which remains part of the European Union.

According to the new proposal from Brussels, checks on food and animal products going from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland would be reduced by 80 percent, customs paperwork for shipments of many goods would be slashed and the flow of medicines would be ensured.

“Today’s package has the potential to make real, tangible difference on the ground,” said Maros Sefcovic, vice president of the European Commission, the executive body of the 27-nation bloc, adding that this amounted to an “alternative model for implementation of the protocol.”

But he offered no concession over a demand made on Tuesday by Britain for a completely new agreement, one that would remove any role for the European Court of Justice, the bloc’s top court, as an arbiter in disputes. That idea had already been rejected by Brussels.

For critics of Mr. Johnson, the rift over the protocol is evidence of his lack of trustworthiness, his willingness to break international commitments and his denial of responsibility for the consequences of the withdrawal from Europe he championed. Mr. Johnson’s allies accuse the European Union of inflexibility in applying rules, a pettifogging lack of sensitivity to feelings in parts of Northern Ireland and vengeful hostility toward Britain for exiting the bloc.

Behind all the bluster lie fears about the fragility of the Northern Ireland peace that raise the stakes beyond those of typical trade disputes. President Biden, who talks often about his Irish heritage, has already warned Mr. Johnson not to do anything to undermine the Good Friday Agreement that helped to end the violence.

It’s fair to say that while the accord sounds like the title of a spy thriller, it’s actually a dry legal text that won’t be found on most people’s vacation reading lists.

The frontier between Northern Ireland, which remains in the United Kingdom, and Ireland, which is in the European Union, is contested, and parts of it were fortified during the decades of violence known as “The Troubles.” But after the Good Friday peace deal in 1998, those visible signs of division have melted away along the open border. No one wants checkpoints back, but as part of his Brexit plan, Mr. Johnson insisted on leaving Europe’s customs union and its single market, which allows goods to flow freely across European borders without checks.

The protocol sets out a plan to deal with this unique situation. It does so by effectively leaving Northern Ireland half inside the European system (and its giant market), and half inside the British one. It sounds neat — logical, even — until you try to make it work.

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