By Aaron Rankin.

The EU are at it again!

As the summer break ends in both London and Brussels normal business resumes. Though in the European Commission they started a little bit earlier than the rest by briefing journalists with warnings to the next British Prime Minister, whoever that may be.

Their main grievance being that the EU cannot negotiate with the UK whilst having the “loaded gun” of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, currently passing through parliament, on the table. In addition to that they warn against using Article 16 of the aforementioned protocol, an article that allows for suspension of its functions in adverse circumstances and one Brussels agreed to in the treaty they signed.

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill only exists in the first place precisely because the EU refused to negotiate on multiple occasions.

This is quite frankly laughable and shows how out of touch the Berlaymont mandarins really are. The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill only exists in the first place precisely because the EU refused to negotiate on multiple occasions.

Their warning against the use of Article 16 and the damage it would cause is also equally hollow as they made use of the very same article themselves in January 2021 during a fit of jealousy! As you may remember, at the time, the UK’s COVID vaccination programme was gathering pace but the EU’s was stalling.

In an attempt to save face and remedy the situation they promulgated a regulation that seeked to prevent vaccine exports to the UK, utilising Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent vaccines being transported to the UK via NI. This effectively created a “hard border” on the Island of Ireland, a concept the Protocol was meant to prevent. The ensuing outrage caused them to retract said regulation within mere hours of its announcement and it was subsequently withdrawn with the document in question being memoryholed on their website.

The Commission have since claimed that such a deliberately constructed legal instrument was put in place “by accident”.

Escalating matters further Maroš Šefčovič, EU Vice President and Chief Negotiator with the UK, in a speech to the British-Irish Association Conference in Oxford on Friday made similar overtures. At the event he said “The EU will never leave the table”, an usual remark considering his previous dismissive statements ruling out negotiation of any kind in May.

He went on to outline the current EU proposals to resolve the Protocols issues by reiterating that their plans would create an “Express Lane”, reduce SPS checks for GB-NI goods by 80% as well as reduce customs formalities by half. With all these good intentions laid out he was genuinely perplexed as to why they had been disregarded by the British Government.

What he failed to mention is that these numbers are nothing but a conjuring trick. The 80% reduction in SPS checks is based on the full strict application of EU regulations on GB-NI goods movements.

These are not in place and never will be. At the moment in Northern Ireland we have a number of Grace Periods in place that reduce the bureaucratic burden on such goods movements. While the level of bureaucracy is disruptive, having resulted in at least 200 suppliers forgoing serving here, the EU plans would result in a colossal increase in the current paperwork creating more problems than it would solve.

Maroš Šefčovič further lamented that the EU proposals had not been given the proper consideration they deserved in London. However that is because, as previously mentioned, they don’t resolve the issue around goods and don’t even acknowledge the other issues the UK has identified with the Protocol around governance as well as VAT for example.

The most depressing thing about all these tone deaf utterances is not that they won’t actually solve literally any of the problems on the ground in Northern Ireland but that they are a continuation of the Michel Barnier playbook, a strategy that has never worked in their favour.

They tried the same tactics to get Theresa May to sell the first iteration of the Withdrawal Agreement that meant submission to Brussels, but that failed and as a result they got a more forthright Prime Minister in Boris Johnson who renegotiated it.

They tried the same tactics to get Theresa May to sell the first iteration of the Withdrawal Agreement that meant submission to Brussels, but that failed and as a result they got a more forthright Prime Minister in Boris Johnson who renegotiated it. Something Brussels said they would never do.

They tried to make dynamic alignment a condition of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and even refused to engage in negotiations for months because they were unsure the UK would implement the Northern Ireland Protocol. Concurrently they were refusing to engage in discussions on how to actually implement the Protocol in the Joint Committee, deliberately placing the UK in a kafkaesque situation!

Now they are saying they’ll refuse to negotiate after the UK side steps them for… err… refusing to negotiate.

Every time Brussels has done this they have achieved exactly the opposite of what they wanted. Their hardline position has only served to push the UK further away and if you push the UK away Northern Ireland goes with it.

This approach is even counterproductive to the EU’s stated aims. The main purpose of the Northern Ireland Protocol was to protect the Good Friday Agreement however their aggressive positioning on how it should be implemented has left it in ashes.

The Good Friday Agreement consists of three strands, devolution, North-South cooperation and the East-West dimension. At the moment devolution isn’t a thing, North-South cooperation has broken down and the East-West dimension is disrupted. Nothing the EU is proposing will ameliorate that, it will only make the situation here in Northern Ireland worse.

If Brussels really genuinely wants to resolve the issues the Protocol presents then they need to start taking British concerns seriously rather than acting like they don’t exist and that they can force our hand. Once the Transition Period ended the dynamic changed, as things now stand the ultimate arbiter of what happens in our country is our Parliament, what happens within our borders happens only on our terms.

The UK has identified what needs fixed in the Protocol and we have presented holistic solutions over a year ago that were totally ignored. It’s time Brussels stopped denying there is even a problem in the first place and actually engage.

The EU can have 50% of something or 100% of nothing, unfortunately their posturing in the last week shows they may have already made their choice.

Follow Aaron Rankin at https://aaronrankin.com

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here