Why Britain’s latest Brexit gambit won’t work


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When Lord David Frost announcing yesterday its latest plan to reload the Northern Ireland Protocol, he rightly noted that most of the ‘current friction’ between the EU and the UK stems from the heated debate over Northern Ireland.

“If we can eliminate it, a great price will be offered,” he wrote in the preamble to the document. “A better and more constructive relationship between the UK and the EU, without mistrust, and to work effectively to support common goals.”

It is difficult to argue with the statement, and yet it is equally difficult to square the content of the Frost proposals with its brilliance that it is all a proportionate attempt to make the Northern Ireland situation work for both sides. .

Because it’s clear. The 28-page assignments do not provide detailed technical solutions to difficult problems; it is a return to old arguments and an attack on the fundamentals of the protocol itself, leaving Northern Ireland de facto in the EU internal market for goods so that the rest of the UK can leave the EU on the most difficult possible terms.

To make the agreement work, Boris Johnson agreed that Northern Ireland should comply with large parts of the EU laws and regulations set out in the Annexes to the Protocol. It is logical that the application of these rules under the legislation of the European Court of Justice, as that court is the sole arbitrator of EU law.

According to the Frost proposals, the structure should be replaced by a ‘treaty-based’ approach using an international arbitration mechanism.

At the same time, Frost wants British goods, even if they do not meet EU standards, to be allowed to circulate freely in Northern Ireland, as long as they are clearly marked for consumption in the region.

And he wants companies in Britain to be able to certify themselves if goods are destined for Northern Ireland only, and if so, are exempt from all checks on the Irish Sea border.

For goods going in the other direction (from Northern Ireland to Great Britain), Frost turned down the EU’s offer to avoid formal export declarations, using other data sources, such as ship manifestos, so that there is no record is of goods leaving the EU market, as required by EU law.

The ECJ, as the enforcer of the rules of the EU internal market, would – in Frost’s vision – have no control over goods circulating in Northern Ireland, and no north-south border to police them. not.

The net result of this is a legal free-for-all that removes the border in the Irish Sea and by relentless extension pushes it back to the island of Ireland, or in the sea between Ireland and the rest of the EU and thus Ireland’s place in to dilute the EU internal market.

Ripe is not naive. He is well aware that this proposal will not be acceptable. It is not legal or politically viable. Instead, it is an attempt to turn the clock back to conceptual arguments that were lost in 2019, but that the Johnson government now wants to try to win again.

To be honest with Frost, this protocol never seemed to be his favorite solution. He strongly argued for the ‘alternative arrangements’ to create a north-south border, believing that the rest of the EU would eventually force Dublin to accept this compromise.

He was wrong. Merkel and the EU27 held on and Johnson agreed the protocol within nine days in October 2019 in order to ‘get Brexit done’. As we now know of Dominic Cummings’ blog, the prime minister followed the instructions to ignore officials “Chatter” about Northern Ireland.

After Frost and Johnson signed the agreement to complete Brexit in 2019, they subsequently decided to sign a hasty trade agreement in Canada which, by taking the UK as far outside the EU’s regulatory path as possible, the absolute maximum pressure on the Border Arrangement of the Irish Sea they agreed to the previous year.

These were clear choices, the consequences of which cannot now be considered unforeseen. Edwin Poots, when specifically the Minister of Agriculture of the Democratic Unionists warned the government in June last year that if it were to conclude a super-tough EU-UK trade agreement without a Swiss veterinary agreement to amend rules on animal and plant products, the protocol would place ‘unacceptable burdens’ on the people of Northern Ireland.

And so it happened. Six months after the implementation of the protocol, the government clearly regrets the choices and demands a reconsideration based on a misuse of pleas to “trust us”, technological solutions and “mutual application” concepts that it knows the EU will not do. legally tolerated.

The extraordinary ‘section one’ of the commando paper tries to imply that Johnson almost forcibly signed the original agreement, because Parliament’s insistence on the UK not being able to leave the EU without an agreement ‘the government’s negotiating hand’ radically undermined. ”.

If this is correct, the demands in this article by implication indicate that Frost now believes that the Johnson government has a stronger hand created by the deteriorating political and economic facts on the ground, and that he intends to do so. use.

From an EU perspective, it is, as one diplomat describes it to me, ‘gangster politics’. And since the EU is not going to agree to the UK’s core requirements, it looks like this move is intended to provoke further EU legal action (which Frosts says is unhelpful) and likely a UK decision to overrule Article 16. activate.

It’s not too late to retire, but time is short. Businesses want clarity by the end of August on any new rules or extension of grace periods, which Frost has demanded as part of a “standstill” while a new deal is eliminated.

Perhaps it is still possible, if the EU shows a high degree of flexibility, to retain the core of the protocol, but to transfer the “risk” approach that controls tariffs to the agrifood arena, which is far from the greatest source of friction is. This will reduce the check class immediately.

Yet this latest British gambit hardly feels like cultivating an atmosphere of compromise. Indeed, it will be difficult for the European Commission not to take further legal action on the existing agreement if the UK stays on this track.

None of this is likely to provide clarity for business or calm in Northern Ireland’s feverish politics. As Frost said, there is indeed a “big price” to be reached in reaching an agreement. It feels like a strange way of understanding it.

Brexit in numbers

Line graph of Share of total (%), by age group showing HGV manager's age compared to the working population

The United Kingdom truck driver shortage, which is estimated by SU at more than 60 000 Road Transport Association, is biting harder, and is further exacerbated by the ‘ping demics’ of self-isolation caused by the rising Covid-19 rate.

The transport industry is working hard for the government to get drivers on the list of a visa card, or for the creation of a temporary visa scheme for HGV drivers legally trained to qualify for a visa under the UK immigration system after the Brexit points.

This week, the demands were repelled by the government, which instead offered a bunch of half-measures to address the problem. It promised to increase the test speed for HGV drivers; do more to encourage job seekers into the profession and raise apprenticeship funding for managers. It also wants to work with industry to make the profession more attractive by, for example, improving truck parking facilities.

This is good in the medium term, say transport industry leaders, but it is not nearly necessary to tackle the short-term crisis. As Richard Burnett“The government proposals” do not address the critical issues in the short term. The problem is immediate, and we need to have access to overseas managers with short-term visas, “the RHA boss said.

But ministers are unmoved – or at least the Home Office is unmoved – and in a letter to the industry signed jointly by the Secretary of State for Transport, Environment and Work and Pensions this week, they basically said “sorry, bad luck” .

“We know that companies are currently under severe pressure and adapting business models,” they wrote, adding that ultimately “market mechanisms will be the dominant way to address this shortfall”.

This is the political front line of Brexit, which has brought voters to the leave standard by promising higher wages to curb immigration into the EU, but to mention that labor shortages can cause delays and scarcity.

This is a strain that is likely to deepen during the summer.

And finally, three inadmissible Brexit stories

  • There is a depressing frenzy over the British government’s new proposals for post-Brexit trade Northern Ireland, writes Philip Stephens. Downing Street has made an offer he knows the EU cannot accept. Even where it tends to be flexible, Brussels now has the confirmation that the UK cannot be trusted to keep its word. The danger is that Northern Ireland will pay the price.

  • A trade agreement based on the concept of “mutual enforcement” or “dual autonomy” will United Kingdom and the I to keep their regulatory autonomy intact, writes former Director-General of the European Commission Jonathan Faull. Each incorporates the legal obligations of the other party into its local law, which should be applied only by producers who export goods to the other party’s territory.

  • Riots and political unrest usually turn off investors. But unrest and upheaval in Northern Ireland have done it this year did not stop the flow of investments in Belfast of financial and professional service firms. US banking giant Citigroup and Big Four accountants PwC, Deloitte and KPMG plan to create thousands of jobs in the city over the next few years. New financial services businesses have also fallen in the local talent pool after fDI named Belfast in a research report for 2019 as the third largest fintech center in the world.

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