UK misinterprets EU settlement on Northern Ireland dispute

The author is the managing director of the Europe region at Eurasia Group

When threatening the EU about Northern Ireland Protocol, the UK is once again in danger of mistaking its wishes for reality. There may be differences of opinion within the EU. There wouldn’t be – if the impulse were to jostle – the clear division London imagines.

Despite the commitment to intensify negotiations and a little softer tune Last week from Brexit Secretary Lord David Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, Brussels was concerned that the UK government would announce its intention to suspend parts of the protocol, possibly in December.

The British calculation was that member states would unite to make noise in public but be much less aggressive in practice. London believes the Irish and French are isolated and that the Dutch, Germans and Poles will oppose any suspension of the UK-EU trade deal.

While it is true that persistent Brexit issues pose the risk of “Irish fatigue” – which Dublin acutely aware – the UK government’s assessment of the possibility of a split of the EU is misguided.

First, its characterization of the German and Dutch positions is simply wrong. Second, Poland understands that the EU cannot expect EU support on its border with Belarus and does not support Ireland on border issues with the UK.

There is a strong present of thought in Whitehall that the member states were not particularly bothered about Northern Ireland – certainly not enough to risk their commercial interests. British officials believe that many EU capitals pose little objective risk to the single market if goods are not regulated to flow from the UK into Northern Ireland. There is also a belief in London that member states are frustrated with the committee for not having delivered the constructive strategic relationship with the UK that they desired.

The government is betting that an agreement they can secure with Article 16 notice will be better than anything they can secure without notice. It wants a controlled explosion, allowing an agreement to be reached together 30 days after the announcement. It will never have to pause parts of protocol that it claims to be causing “serious economic, social or environmental hardship” and “displacement of commerce”.

This is a big gamble.

The EU will see the government’s use of Article 16 as the culmination of a process of “lack of confidence” starting with the Internal Market Bill, the unilateral expansion of extension time to reduce trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and order paper in July, the UK plans to rewrite the protocol. The latter, EU officials believe, would require fundamental reconstruction – much more than asking to “re-negotiate” Lord Frost and the EU’s refusal to entertain.

Brussels doubts Britain’s ultimate goal is to establish facts on the ground. The aim is to show that there is little risk to the integrity of the EU single market if goods from the UK are destined for Northern Ireland remain free from customs controls and regulations.

As the commission will not force Dublin to impose a border on the island of Ireland, pressure will increase over time to implement checks on goods traveling from Ireland to the rest of the EU. But EU is identified never let Ireland be cut off from the single market. It will face what it sees as British blackmail – being forced to risk an open, unregulated Irish border or jeopardizing Ireland’s position in the single market.

The EU will not allow the creation of a new reality that its member states believe against their interests – especially if the UK diverges from future EU regulations and standards.

Start a process to finish post-Brexit trade deal – or an announcement to consider such a move – is possible. But while it has been a useful rallying call in recent weeks and why many in the EU believe Lord Frost is engaging more constructively in the negotiations, consensus building Agreement on a complete termination will not be easy. Partial termination of the commercial agreement – with the exception of the chapters on social security and police cooperation – is more reasonable.

Brussels and its member states are also exploring more subtle, legal creative ways to make immediate strikes against the UK without waiting months for an arbitral or court decision. European Justice. This may be related to tariffs on UK sensitive goods, putting London under pressure to respond in kind. An explosion can be difficult to control.

UK officials argue they will not sabotage protocol if they give notice Article 16. But the relationship between the UK and the EU is very bad. The EU will consider it an act of hostility and issue a swift, strong response. I will do that a brave, perhaps stupid prime minister, to wager the opposite.

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