Brexit has delivered another dispute between the United Kingdom and the European Union, this time over Northern Ireland.
Britain’s Brexit minister is demanding an overhaul and replacement of a complex agreement on trade rules for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but shares a politically sensitive land border with Ireland, which remains a European Union country. The Northern Ireland Protocol was introduced in order to help prevent checks along the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border, and involves keeping Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for goods.
The Irish foreign minister has accused the Brexit minister, David Frost, of trying to undermine serious attempts to solve the problem, and said that the EU is close to breaking down relations even further over the confrontation.
In a speech to diplomats in Lisbon, Frost asked for an overhaul of the post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland. This move has been considered a serious escalation of what was before a simmering dispute. How Northern Ireland fits into the scope of Brexit has been an issue since the beginning of the withdrawal. But this new proposal throws away some elements that the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had agreed to less than two years ago, and also includes ideas that the EU had previously rejected, reneging on previous discussions.
Frost claimed that the Northern Ireland protocol is not working, and argued that agreement was not protecting the fragile peace process within the nation. He said it represents EU overreach, and therefore cannot last.
Frost’s speech was met with tweets from the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, who said that while the EU is working seriously to resolve practical issues with the Protocol’s implementation, the UK government instead has decided to create a new “red line” barrier that they know the EU can’t move on. He questioned whether what the UK actually wants is a breakdown in relations.
In follow up interviews, Frost said that while tweeting about the dispute may be undiplomatic, he said it was a “bit rich” of Frost to be just as accusatory.
The rising tensions before negotiations have begun for the protocol are raising fears that the talks will end in dismay, and some fear a potential trade war next year.
The EU is now to set out proposals to address the ongoing trade disagreement.