Despite planned EU concessions, the British government has moved to sabotage a round of talks intended to deal with unionist objections to Brexit’s Irish Protocol by raising a new “red line” barrier in the negotiations.
UK chief Brexit negotiator David Frost is expected to demand on Tuesday that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is removed from oversight of the post-Brexit deal, which he himself directly negotiated with Brussels.
The Protocol was agreed as a means to allow Britain leave the EU without requiring a hard border through the island of Ireland.
Unionists, English nationalists and hardline Tories have objected to what they claim is a dilution of the union between the north of Ireland Britain. This week it was reported the EU had been set to offer concessions that would entirely remove trade checks at Irish sea ports, effectively surrendering in the so-called ‘Sausage War’.
But new demands by the Tory government on the role of the European Court of Justice creates a giant new obstacle to efforts to resolve the crisis as it would remove the EU’s ability to defend the implementation of the Protocol.
Such an outcome could allow the British government to progressively undermine the agreement’s trade rules and require their replacement with border checks between the north and south of Ireland, or between Ireland and mainland Europe. That would potentially reignite conflict in the border regions and/or force Ireland out of the EU.
The 26 County Foreign Minister Coveney said London had created “a new ‘red line’ barrier to progress, that they know EU can’t move on... are we surprised?” He said the “real question” is does London “actually want an agreed way forward or a further breakdown in relations?”
A hardening of the British position was seen as inevitable after the EU earlier this year suspended legal moves to force Britain to honour its treaty obligations with the EU
European experts had warned their strategy had little chance of success.
“This has been another lesson for the Commission: there is little sense in making any concession at this point, because any concession will be judged as weakness,” wrote John Cotter of the University of Keele.
“It’s now obvious there was never any intention to abide by the Protocol. The intention was to rip it up. They are complaining about aspects of it that are there in black and white.”
A full trade war between Britain and the EU is now the likely outcome, according to Mujtaba Rahman, the managing director of the Eurasia Group consultancy.
“There is a huge amount of cynicism in the EU about what the government’s actual objectives are. Is it to fix substantive issues in Northern Ireland or is it to keep an ideological fight with the EU rolling because it serves certain sections of the Tory party?” he asked.
“The French president and the German chancellor and the European Commission president cannot wake up every single day to a new argument with Boris Johnson. At some point they need to send a stronger, simpler message.”