Fears of UK-EU Trade War Grow as Brexit Minister Expected to Reject Brussels’ Offers on NI Protocol

Max Gorbachev

At the heart of the row is the Northern Ireland Protocol, a provision of the Brexit deal that aims to avoid a hard border between Nor-thern Ireland and the R-epublic of Ireland. Lond-on has called on Brussels to renegotiate the agreement, something the EU has vowed not to do.

Fears of a trade war between the United Kingd-om and the European Un-ion have grown as Brexit Minister Lord Frost is exp-ected to reject offers made by the European Union, local media reported.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, who is in charge of the bloc’s post-Brexit relations with Britain, is set to submit four papers on 13 October on how the ongoing row over the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) can be resolved, with the official describing the proposals as “very far reaching”.

Among the offers is a “national identity” exemption for British sausages and other chilled meats from the European Union’s ban.

According to The Guardian, in a speech in Portugal on 12 October, Lord Frost will signal that the proposed measures are not enough to resolve the dispute between the two sides. The Telegraph writes, citing its sources, that Mr Frost will call for significant changes to the NIP, including the removal of the European Court of Justice from its role in overseeing the accord, which the official is expected to describe as a “red line” for Britain.

“Without new arrangements in this area the protocol will never have the support it needs to survive”, the minister will say, as per the newspaper

The news of the UK’s stance has prompted criticism. Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has voiced doubt that the government of Boris Johnson wants to resolve the differences and reach a compromise deal with Brussels.

Mujtaba Rahman, the managing director of the Eurasia Group consultancy, wondered whether the UK authorities’ position is a sign that London is pursuing other aims.

“There is a huge amount of cynicism in the EU about what the government’s actual objectives are. Is it to fix substantive issues in Northern Ireland or is it to keep an ideological fight with the EU rolling because it serves certain sections of the Tory party?” he said.

Apple of Discord

At the heart of the row is the NIP, a provision of the Brexit deal that the sides struck after the United Kingdom left the bloc in January 2020. The accord ensures that there is no hard border between the Republic of Ireland (an EU member) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). This is important, as Belfast was the scene of a sectarian conflict in the 20th century dubbed “The Troubles” that left more than 3,600 dead and 30,000 injured. One of the sides (Republicans) opposed Northern Ireland’s union with the United Kingdom and wanted it to join the Republic of Ireland.

The other side (Unionists) wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. The conflict ended in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, a peace treaty that, among other things, stipulated that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland should be almost non-existent – no border posts and no cameras.

As part of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a new border has effectively been created in the Irish Sea, with Belfast remaining part of the EU single market.

The deal, however, apparently only worked on paper. Since the UK officially left the EU, there have been major supply disruptions due to checks across the Irish border. This has led to tensions in Northern Ireland, with Unionists strongly opposing the NIP, which they say threatens Belfast’s membership in the UK.

Another issue is the delivery of sausages and other chilled meats to Northern Ireland. The European Union has its own rules about what can enter its market and only allows deliveries of frozen meat. Thus, although Northern Ireland is part of the UK, as a member of the European Union’s single market it can’t receive sausages and other products from the rest of Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland).

The UK and the EU have agreed on a six-month grace period that temporarily suspends the rules of the NIP. It was recently prolonged. During that time, both sides intended to find a long-term solution to the problems, but failed to resolve their differences.

London has been asking Brussels to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol, something which Brussels has vehemently refused to do, accusing the UK of reneging on its promises.

“We have a protocol, an agreement of separation, in the framework of which is Northern Ireland and a trade treaty.

It was painstakingly discussed for years and discussed, I remind you, at the initiative of the British who wanted to leave, not the Europeans. I believe in the weight of a treaty; I believe in taking a serious approach. Nothing is negotiable; everything is applicable”, said French President Emmanuel Macron this summer.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to resolve the issue and even threatened to terminate the NIP by using Article 16, which allows both London and Brussels to suspend the measure if it causes “economic, societal, or environmental difficulties”. In such an event, European Union, in turn, has vowed to start a trade war with the UK, imposing tariffs and quotas on British exports.

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