Brexit: Expert analyses 'political dilemma’ from EU deal
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The political crisis in Northern Ireland has placed Boris Johnson’s Government between a rock and a hard place – it will either have to fully implement the Northern Ireland Protocol or take the risk of scrapping the whole Brexit deal with the European Union, according to the chief executive of the European Policy Centre Fabian Zuleeg. Last month, the DUP has plunged Northern Ireland into a political crisis as it refused to form a coalition with the now largest party in power – Sinn Fein – until all their concerns around the Protocol were fixed.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has sought to make guarantees to the DUP by offering a new bill that would override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol and ease political tensions. But the EU’s Brexit Commissioner Maros Sefcovic has warned against violating parts of the Protocol and come forward with suggestions. Some experts argue Liz Truss’ bill, if implemented, could cancel the whole Brexit deal.
To Dr Zuleeg, Boris Johnson has created the circumstances around the political stalemate with the EU and must now live with the consequences.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, he said: “I think it is also reflecting the political dilemma for the UK government to get Brexit done. They’re saying something which in the end also has consequences which are politically uncomfortable for the Government.
“So, this is a denial of responsibility for something in the end, that they have created.”
Boris Johnson finalised Brexit talks with the EU in January 2020 and then signed the Northern Ireland Protocol along with the withdrawal agreement which only came into force in January 2021.
But the DUP has refused to form a government with Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland until the customs border in the Irish Sea, as agreed by both parties in 2020, was scrapped – throwing the protocol into doubt.
But Dr Zuleeg argues that in line with the protocol, the only viable option at this juncture is to implement the current Protocol with an international border in the Irish Sea.
“What we have is that Brexit created a dilemma for Northern Ireland because the UK decided to leave the single market and the customs union.
“That implies that there has to be a border somewhere. There can be a lot which is done to make that border as least visible as possible. But there will have to be an international border somewhere.”
Dr Zuleeg said: “For a variety of reasons, there was agreement on both sides with also previous and subsequent and the current UK government that the border could not be on the Island of Ireland.
“There are many reasons for that but that is something which was agreed, so you then come into a question of what the alternative is.
“We had an alternative which was proposed by the May government, which was the backstop. That was rejected politically in the UK.
“The deal which Boris Johnson then made was the current arrangement, which actually means that there are some checks in the Irish Sea. This was the only real option on the table and now we’re seeing the consequences of that.”
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“To now say we have to scrap those checks within the Irish Sea cannot be an answer because it comes back to the dilemma we had before, unless the UK government would now agree to re-join the single market and the customs union, then this is the option which in the end was chosen”, Dr Zuleeg concluded.
Ahead of talks with the EU, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the consequences for Ireland and Britain would be “extremely serious” if the prime minister decided to scrap some parts of the protocol.
“If Boris Johnson persists, and if he insists on disapplying the Protocol or sections of it, that calls into question the Withdrawal Agreement in its entirety, in my view, and the consequences of that could be extremely serious for Ireland, and extremely serious, by the way, for Britain,” she said.
Liz Truss’ bill is expected next week.
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