The current impasse on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol of the EU-UK Brexit agreement teaches 2 important lessons:
- EU membership carries with it the possibility of peace. Peace in Northern Ireland, as agreed upon in the Good Friday Agreement, was made possible under the EU umbrella, under which national boundaries lose significance. With folding the EU umbrella by exiting the EU the UK has reinstated the pre-GFA and pre-EU-membership context.
The Northern Ireland Protocol is designed to mitigate the dire consequences. It was the result of extensive negotiations in which both sides made concessions to uphold the conditions for peace in Northern Ireland in spite of Brexit. Not adhering to the Protocol is tantamount to pulling out the rug from under the result of 5 years of negotiations.
- All this should not come as a surprise: Even before becoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his Brexit philosophy by declaring that he wants to have his cake and eat it too, i.e. have all the benefits of EU membership without any of the strings and responsibilities attached.
With respect to the Northern Ireland Protocol, it is safe to assume that the British side never intended to honor their commitments. It was a negotiations ploy to get the exit agreement over the hurdle. Considering all the public statements made along the way by Johnson, Frost et al. (Johnson: „absolutely no border down the Irish Sea“) as well as the recent actions like unilaterally moving out deadlines for the protocols implementation are a case in point.
Here is the naked thought underlying the UK approach to negotiating the solution for Northern Ireland: To demonstrate effort we will negotiate hard but in the end it does not matter what we sign! We will not stick to it anyway. We will appeal to the court of UK public opinion, ask the EU for pragmatic solutions, call them legal purists* and a bureaucratic monster, request the EU to avoid being “bloody-minded” about the issue of border checks, we depict ourselves as the victim of EU-agression etc… In this way we’ll win the war for public opinion at home and put pressure on the EU to make further concessions beyond the agreed upon treaties until we get, what we want. And that is „We want to have our cake and eat it too!
This is where the European Union’s teeth come into play. And I’m glad I’ve seen them being bared a bit lately. The EU can not let itself be suckered by this approach.
At the same time, we need to keep the candle in the window for the British people: You are part of our European family, and you’ll always be welcomed back!
*as if this is a bad thing
This article was written by Klaus Feldmann and reflects his personal opinion.