The European Commission is running out of patience with the Government of Boris Johnson and the negotiations on the application of the Brexit agreements in Ireland. The vice president and head of Brexit, Maros Sefcovic, raised the tone this Friday after a third meeting with his British counterpart, David Frost. “So far the UK has not moved at all. I find this disappointing and once again urge the British Government to be sincerely involved [en las negociaciones]”, He assessed before issuing a harsh warning:“ Invoking article 16 of the protocol would have serious consequences for Northern Ireland and for relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom in general ”.
The warning was not enough for Sefcovic. In an address without questions, he also warned that he considers crucial the next meeting he will have in London with Frost next Friday. After several rounds of negotiations without clear progress, Brussels wants the talks to begin to bear fruit or, at least, to see that they are going in the right direction. And to this lack of progress after almost a month of negotiations, there is added the fear of Brussels that after COP26 London will suspend the Irish agreement, European diplomatic sources point out.
The basis of this fear is found in the following reasoning: the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, would not have wanted to cloud the great climate summit that is being held on British soil, in Glasgow, and has preferred to wait for it to happen before resorting to heavy artillery. But what Sefcovic has come to say and what those same diplomatic sources underline is that this in Brussels would be interpreted as a unilateral rupture and would give way to a spiral of reprisals with unforeseeable consequences.
Invoking article 16 implies a unilateral suspension of the Irish protocol, as the part of the Brexit agreement that regulates relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom is called, signed by both parties in November 2019, many months before the joint pact of the Brexit closed on Christmas Eve last year. The Boris Johnson government has repeatedly threatened to take this measure if Brussels does not agree to renegotiate the protocol agreed upon by themselves. London’s main interest in reversing itself is to change that the protocol grants the Court of Justice of the European Union the role of final arbiter in commercial disputes that may arise in relations between Ulster and the Twenty-seven. The rumor that London was going to activate this mechanism had grown in recent days and this Friday Sefcovic hit the table.
Until now the European Commission had tried to ease the tension. Despite the challenges that were launched from London, the community response sought to ease the situation. This Friday even, while the meeting was being held, the official spokespersons for the Executive of Ursula von der Leyen were limited to saying that the Union “was looking for solutions” and that “they were holding intense conversations.” On the other hand, a little later, the top European politician responsible for this matter has reacted forcefully.
So that there are no doubts about this turn, in his speech without questions Sefcovic has also alluded to the other dispute that London has open with the European Union and, particularly, with Paris: the fishing licenses in the English Channel. “The agreement is clear. All the boats that fished [en la zona] must continue [con su actividad] and have permits ”. A clear answer to the argument that the London Government always gives on this point, when it replies that they have given the green light to 98% of requests.
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That figure has reappeared in the statement that Frost has sent at the end of the meeting. In the text, the British assumes that so far progress has been “limited” and adds that “the proposals of the European Union do not address the fundamental problems of the operation of the Protocol.” Sefcovic has also responded to this in his speech when he highlighted that the community offer reduces up to 80% the customs procedures that products from Great Britain that enter Belfast now have to face. In this way, it is once again clear that the main obstacle continues to be the role of arbitrator of the Court of Justice of the European Union, a point that Brussels refuses to give up because it would mean breaking the single market.
If London finally suspends the agreement unilaterally, the European Union has been preparing the reprisals it would adopt for some time. Although the details have not been disclosed, it is known that there are several countries, including France and Germany that defend a forceful response if British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dares to take that step.
The agreement to exit the United Kingdom that London and Brussels reached on December 24 already includes a mechanism for one of the parties to retaliate in 20 days if it considers that the other is not complying with the agreement. This point of the agreement was introduced at the request of the European side, which did not trust the British Government to keep its commitments and use its legislative autonomy to allow British companies to resort to unfair competition by resorting to more lax regulations. This is possible because with the British pact, English companies can access the European market without paying taxes or customs.
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