By Administrator_ India
Britain demanded on Wednesday a new deal to oversee problematic post-Brexit trade involving Northern Ireland, warning it already had the right to unilaterally ignore parts of an agreement struck with the bloc just last year.
The European Commission immediately poured cold water on the plea, saying Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit minister David Frost had negotiated the protocol and Britain had to respect its international obligations.
“We will not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol,” said the commission’s Vice President Maros Sefcovic.
The Northern Ireland protocol was part of the settlement, backed by Johnson, that finally sealed Britain’s bitter divorce from the bloc, four years after British voters backed leaving in a referendum.
Businesses in Northern Ireland say it is damaging trade, and some pro-British groups have protested at what they say is a weakening of ties with Britain, raising concerns about a return to the sectarian violence which plagued the province for three decades.
“We cannot go on as we are,” Frost told parliament on Wednesday, saying London said wanted a new “balance”, and to eliminate EU oversight of the accord.
The protocol addresses the biggest conundrum of the divorce: how to ensure the delicate peace brought to the province by a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace accord – by maintaining an open border – without opening a back door through Ireland to the EU’s single market of 450 million people.
It essentially requires checks on goods between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, but these have proved burdensome to companies and anathema to “unionists” who are fiercely supportive of the province remaining part of the United Kingdom.
Frost said there was justification for invoking Article 16 of the protocol, which allows either side to dispense with its terms if they are proving unexpectedly harmful.
“Nevertheless … we have concluded that is not the right moment to do so,” he said. “We see an opportunity to proceed differently, to find a new path to seek to agree with the EU through negotiations, a new balance in our arrangements covering Northern Ireland, to the benefit of all.”
Despite repeated British complaints, the EU has refused to amend the protocol, fearing that the hard-to-police border with EU member Ireland could allow goods to enter its single market without meeting its regulatory standards.