LONDON (AP) – ‘Get Brexit done’ was the slogan of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he ran for office two years ago. Since then, the UK has withdrawn from the European Union after more than four decades of membership and several years of wrangling over the terms of divorce.
And yet the bickering continues: The UK and the now 27-nation EU are once again exchanging accusations and slurs as they attempt to resolve issues in their relationship.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
The current conflict centers on Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that shares a land border with an EU member – Ireland.
While Britain was part of the EU’s vast single free trade market, there were no barriers for people and goods crossing this border. The open border helped support the peace process that ended decades of Catholic-Protestant violence in Northern Ireland, because while it made people, whatever their identity, feel at home in Ireland and the rest of the world. UK
By taking the UK out of the EU economic order, Brexit creates new barriers and controls on trade. Britain and the EU agreed that such checks could not take place at the Ireland-Northern Ireland border due to the risk to the peace process.
The alternative was to put a customs border in the Irish Sea – between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in the UK and threaten their British identity.
WHY IS THE UK-EU CONFLICT WRITING NOW?
Problems have been mounting since the UK left the EU’s economic embrace, including the bloc’s single market, at the end of 2020.
Under the Divorce Agreement, the UK government was required to impose customs controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. It has repeatedly postponed their introduction, much to the dismay of the EU.
Specific issues have arisen around agricultural and food products – in particular an impending ban on chilled meat products entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK which made headlines over a ‘sausage war’ .
Northern Ireland trade unionists’ opposition to the deal has hardened. Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, said on Tuesday that “if he is not replaced he will condemn Northern Ireland to further damage and instability”.
Anger over the new arrangements helped fuel several nights of violence in Northern Ireland in April, mostly in Protestant areas, in which young people threw bricks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at police .
This has led the UK government to claim that the Brexit deal itself – negotiated and accepted by the UK and the EU – is undermining the peace process.
WHAT IS THE EU SAYING?
The EU agrees that the Northern Ireland agreements are not working well. He plans to present proposals on Wednesday to solve trade problems by waiving many checks on goods.
On the eve of the ruling, the UK has again raised the stakes, demanding that the EU also withdraw the European Court of Justice as the ultimate arbiter of the Brexit deal and accept international arbitration instead.
It is very unlikely that the EU will accept it. The bloc’s highest court is seen as the pinnacle of the EU’s single market, and Brussels has vowed not to undermine its own order.
Britain’s demand has led some EU members to doubt Johnson’s government has ever been sincere about sticking to the deal.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?
The EU and the UK say they will hold several weeks of “intensive” talks on the latest proposals.
The talks could lead to a breakthrough or a rupture; the signals are mixed. On the one hand, there were times during Brexit when the UK threatened to walk away without a deal, only to compromise at the last minute. It could be another.
But if the UK government sticks to its insistence on excluding a role for the European Court, it’s hard to see any room for compromise.
In this case, Britain has said it will trigger an emergency break clause that would allow either side to put the Brexit deal on hold if it causes exceptional hardship. Such a move would infuriate the EU, which will likely respond with legal action and possibly economic sanctions against the UK
It could escalate into an all-out trade war – a war that is expected to hit the UK economy harder than that of the much larger bloc.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists, meanwhile, are threatening to bring down Belfast’s power-sharing government if the deal is not broken, a move that would trigger an election and plunge the region into further uncertainty.
Follow AP’s coverage of post-Brexit developments on https://apnews.com/hub/Brexit