Northern Ireland, Once Again

irish brexit

EU leaders make explicit their desire to divert trade from Northern Ireland to the EU

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Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, recently made clear the agenda behind the Irish government and Brussels’ negotiating stance: diversion of trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Remarking that grace periods were in place to enable supermarkets to ‘readapt their supply chains and accept new realities’, Coveney seemed to ignore the fact that Article 16 of the Protocol is specifically in place to enable the parties to prevent substantial trade diversion.

These statements, bizarrely, often come in tandem with EU leaders praising themselves for how generous they’ve been in offering extensions to implementing the Protocol. Both Coveney and Ursula Von Der Leyen have suggested that these extensions are signs of the EU’s generosity, and criticised the UK for failing to reciprocate.

But they themselves envisage extensions as a period in which businesses can change their supply chains, rather than continue to trade with the UK. As such, it’s generosity in a narrow sense – more time to comply – rather than a genuine generosity which recognises Northern Irish businesses’ relationships with the rest of the UK.

This attitude suggests the futility of a policy of delay from the British side. Given the EU’s stated desire for trade diversion, it is unlikely that the bloc will simply concede the permanent fixes necessary for the Protocol to actually function long-term. They have had their chance in numerous meetings of the Protocol’s implementation committee, and remained intransigent.

Moreover, there are risks that the delay only favours Brussels. If some trade diversion does actually take place over the extensions, that will give EU negotiators an easy way to argue that the Protocol is working as anticipated, and thus to deny further concessions. This will leave Unionists trapped and angry in a political limbo – which EU leaders’ platitudes about the Protocol being designed to preserve peace will do little to ameliorate.

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Briefings For Britain