Ireland: Tories seek to crash their own deal deal

Submitted by AWL on 23 November, 2021 - 5:00 Author: Micheál MacEoin
Ireland and Brexit

Speculation is mounting that the UK, as part of its ongoing wrangle with the EU, may trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, plunging its whole Brexit agreement into doubt.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed in October 2019 and signed in December 2020 as a means of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. Instead, Northern Ireland would, in effect, remain part of the EU’s Single Market for goods. Checks would take place between Northern Ireland and Great Britain — creating an Irish Sea border.

Despite initially agreeing to this, Unionists and the Tories are now agitating against their own deal, one which formed a central plank of the December 2019 general election. It seems, as Dominic Cummings recently suggested, that the UK Government signed the deal in order later to try to break it.

Article 16 of the Protocol allows either party to suspend the arrangement if it is likely to create serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”. This is not strictly defined but the UK is arguing that the threshold has been reached.

The UK Government has been sending mixed signals, in turns taking a hardline position and then adopting a more conciliatory tone.

Beneath the diplomatic noise, it is clear they wish to renegotiate the Protocol and the parts of the overall Brexit Agreement which give the European Court of Justice an arbitration role. The EU has made offers to lighten and reduce checks, but the UK has said they’re not enough.

In July, as part of a negotiating gambit, the UK published a Command Paper which set out one possible approach. It would suspend Article 16 and several other provisions of the Protocol. It described an arrangement where there would be “no need for certificates and checks for individual items that are only ever intended to be consumed in Northern Ireland”.

This would be incendiary as it would effectively end the Sea Border and create a backdoor into the EU Single Market.

The UK would be gambling that after an initial period of turmoil, the EU would assent to a radically more light-touch regime.

The EU could retaliate. It would be able to take measures to “rebalance” the situation. Ultimately, after a period of arbitration, it could impose tariffs on UK goods. More immediately it would block UK access to certain research programmes.

Even more explosively, the EU could serve notice on the whole Brexit deal, or its trade aspects, and set a course for a “no deal” Brexit, with full-scale tariffs and border checks between the UK and the EU.

Once again, Northern Ireland is a mere pawn in a UK power play. In Britain, we should argue to wind back Brexit and keep the whole UK within the Single Market and Customs Union. More fundamentally, the solution is a United Ireland (with minority protections) to cut loose from the Brexit debacle.

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