Brexit: From Northern Ireland To Gibraltar, The Never Ending Tale

Brexit: from Northern Ireland to Gibraltar, the never ending tale

It is the never ending story. That the United Kingdom left the European Union on January 31, 2020 is a fact. But that the exit rules are being followed is something that is far from happening. What’s more, two years after signing the exit agreement, Boris Johnson is trying to rewrite it in new negotiations with the European Union around the most contentious element of the agreement: Northern Ireland.

This Friday the top negotiators met in Brussels, the British Minister David Frost on the British side and the Vice President of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic. And, according to community sources, the meeting has been “constructive.” Of course, next week more meetings will be held in Brussels, as part of a negotiation that the EU does not want to extend beyond the end of the year. But, with Brexit, all deadlines have always been blown up and, barring a turn of events, the EU and the UK are heading for an all-out trade war.


The island of Ireland is the beginning and the end of the squaring of the circle. The island of Ireland is made up of Northern Ireland, a member of the United Kingdom and, therefore, a non-EU territory. And also for the Republic of Ireland, a Member State of the EU. But, in addition, it turns out that in 1998 some Good Friday Accords were signed to end decades of armed confrontations between the Catholic and Republican community and the Protestant and Unionist community.

And everything happens here: due to the need to keep an island divided in two together by the peace accords, in one of whose halves there is a community that has suffered pain, violence and fracture until the day before yesterday.

To square the circle, Theresa May came up with an invention with the European Union called backstop, which required a softer Brexit and very light controls on Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland. But no one wants to see a glimpse of customs there for fear of the bloody ghosts of the past. And Boris Johnson ended the prime minister and won an election promising a tougher Brexit, which would leave Britain out of the customs union … Which immediately implied that, for there to be no borders between the Irish, the controls had to be in place in Northern Ireland for all products from England.

And there the drama has been unleashed. To the point that the United Kingdom has been passing successive moratoriums, in order not to apply the protocol in depth. The protocol does not start, London says it is a disaster and asks to rewrite it.

But it is not so easy.

In the absence of another reference, the Cumberland sausage has become the beginning and end of the battle between London and Brussels. Boris Johnson’s moratoriums allowed fresh food to circulate uncontrollably between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And the European Commission has decided that without thrown sausages, it will buy some peace.

In effect, London wants to remake the Northern Ireland protocol. The British minister for Brexit, David Frost, said it last Tuesday, but the truth is that the European Union is not there to reopen signed and approved agreements that have cost so much and that have required a strong unity among the 27. Unit that is better not put to the test in a moment of extreme tension with Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, whose prime minister, of the European PP and exercising the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, is taking a liking to quarreling on Twitter with MEPs and journalists who do not like.

Thus, Brussels proposed on Wednesday to relax the rules of the Northern Ireland protocol to lower food controls by 80%, which would allow sausages, if correctly labeled in Britain, can reach Irish palates without setbacks.

“The central element is the package of flexibilities that the Commission has presented”, says a diplom atic source: “It proposes pragmatic measures to contribute to the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, preserving what is essential from the European point of view: that renegotiates what has been agreed because it must be respected, and that the CJEU must have its role. Flexibilities are proposed in the controls, it is better integrated into the Northern Irish communities, phytosanitary products, generic drugs from the United Kingdom … And we have to see if they react in a constructive or radical way, spreading more tension, invoking article 16 in whole or in part. The EU shows its good will. The package must be taken seriously, it is a big effort that is being made, it has consequences for them and the EU Let’s see how it develops. It’s not easy. “

For now, London says it appreciates the effort, but it is not enough.


It almost sounds like trolling, if it weren’t really a condition sine qua non. After years of negotiation, after it was signed in October 2019 without posing any problem, July 2020 arrives and London begins to say something that it had never said before and that the Northern Irish community does not claim: that it does not want the Court of EU justice has jurisdiction over Northern Ireland. The problem is that Northern Ireland is part of the European common market so there is an invisible border with the Republic of Ireland. And the common market is governed by Community rules and therefore must be under the supervision of Community rules. In other words, the Court of Justice of the EU.

And precisely London introduces the element of the EU Court of Justice at a time when it is being challenged by Poland and Hungary, and by conservative candidates in the French presidential elections such as the EU negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, in addition to the classic leaders of the extreme right, such as Marine Le Pen.

But the EU has very little margin with the CJEU, as long as Northern Ireland is part of the European common market.

It looks like a cliché from a Netflix action series. But it is a comment that is heard frequently in Brussels. “And what if it gives the United Kingdom to invoke Article 16 and suspends the Irish protocol?” Says a community source: “Well, we will have to be prepared. In addition, having a robust plan B can generate an appetite for plan A on the counterpart “.

But what is plan B? “The more prepared we are, the more seriously the flexibility proposals will be taken,” they say in Brussels, pointing to an all-out trade war.

The problem with suspending the Northern Ireland protocol is that, overnight, all controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland can be suspended and, therefore, convert the Republic of Ireland, that is, that border of the UE, in a drain …. Unless the worst ghosts are taken out of the closet and border posts are erected between the two Irish women. But nobody wants that. Nobody wants an excuse that generates an outbreak of violence that leads to a spiral that takes the region back to its worst past.

And that is in everyone’s heads, stomachs and hearts.

Another topic, of course, but it is what they are thinking about in Brussels. If the UK suspends the Northern Ireland protocol, all kinds of trade retaliation are expected … Britain will sneak into Ireland out of respect for the Good Friday agreements, but it will cost dearly to sell anything in the continental EU: tariffs , controls, problems … No longer with the sausages, with anything that arrives from the United Kingdom, industrial components, financial products, everything will be at the disposal of a commercial war, in addition to the legal resources before any available instance.

But it is not clear that anyone wants to get there. Not least because, even with Brexit, the UK’s ties to the EU are multiple. For example, the UK supplies generic drugs not just to Ireland, but also to Cyprus and Malta. And everyone is interested in having a solution, if only to take a cheap ibuprofen or paracetamol when there is a toothache.

Parallel to the reopened negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol, there is a recurring issue for Spain since 1704, when the British took Gibraltar to end up keeping it. Last Monday the teams of the European Commission and the British Government met for the first time to discuss the negotiations on the future relationship of the Rock with Spain. That is to say, the 11,000 people who cross the fence every day and the economic, social and cultural relationship that exists in the Campo de Gibraltar.

In principle, there is a negotiating mandate from the Commission that emanates from the principle of the agreement between Spain and the United Kingdom to lift the gate of Gibraltar after Brexit. But the negotiations have only just started and may be punctuated by those in Northern Ireland. “There has been a first negotiating session”, say the diplomatic sources, “it is little to judge the progress of the talks. We are going to see how one thing impacts the other.”



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