EU ‘mistake’ over Northern Ireland opens door for Boris to change Brexit deal

Brexit: EU trade rules ‘too complicated’ says expert

Tensions between the UK and the EU erupted last month following issues over the supply of coronavirus vaccine to Europe. The European Commission had its supply of Oxford/AstraZeneca slashed due to issues at a manufacturing plant in Belgium.

The bloc then took unilateral decision to deploy emergency measures to stop jabs flowing from Europe into the UK via Northern Ireland – before making a major climb-down.

Sanctions on trade would have broken terms of article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which were agreed as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

As a compromise and in order to avoid a hard border, Northern Ireland remained part of the EU customs union and single market – while the rest of the UK did not.

Unionists believe Northern Ireland’s position within the UK has been undermined by the protocol.

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European expert Bettina Schulz assessed the fallout from the row and warned the bloc has made a “mistake” and insisted the actions of the EU has helped Boris Johnson to seek changes to the protocol.

Writing for German news website Zeit Online, she said: “Johnson probably speculated on being able to soften or overturn the Northern Ireland Protocol retrospectively.

“Because that’s what the British government is currently preparing for with the help of the Unionists. A mistake by the EU Commission is helping Great Britain with this.

“The Commission threatened on January 29 to withdraw Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The article allows the EU and the UK government to suspend parts of the protocol if it threatens trade flows.

“The EU Commission threatened to demand export permits for vaccine deliveries from the EU to Belfast.

“But they weren’t even necessary because Belfast is seen as part of the EU’s single market in the trade in goods. EU president Ursula von der Leyen tried to cushion the faux pas.”

She added: “If the Commission puts Article 16 in the political toolbox as a threatening gesture, London can use it too.”

Last week, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove sent a letter to European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic demanding some changes to the Northern Ireland protocol.

He called for grace periods for the transport of food from Britain to Northern Ireland be extended from a few months to at last two years – following skirmishes at the border in recent weeks.

Speaking at a parliamentary committee this afternoon, Mr Gove insisted trust had been broken between the two sides.

He said: “It was a moment when trust was eroded, when damage was done and where movement is required in order to ensure that we have an appropriate reset.”

Mr Gove stated the protocol was “not working at the moment” with the result being “disruptions and difficulties faced by Northern Ireland citizens in their daily lives”.

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Mr Gove added the current arrangements also threatened to undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

He added: “If people put a particular type of integrationist theology ahead of the interests of the people of Northern Ireland they are not serving the cause of peace and progress in Northern Ireland, and that is my principal and overriding concern.

“Pandora’s Box has been opened and that is concerning… who knows what Trojan horses will come out.”

Mr Gove is expected to hold further talks with Mr Sefcovic on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg)

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