Britain will leave the European Union by the end of 2020, with or without a new free trade agreement, Johnson promises. With only three months to go to the end of a transition period, a pact between the parties seems as far away as ever. Relations between Europe and Britain have risen sharply, underscoring major confrontational actions as Britain and Europe try to recover from deep pandemic recessions.
Rachel Powell grew up in South Armagh, where during Troubles a border patrol between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was patrolled by British troops, often attacked by Irish Republican militants. She said she is deeply concerned about what will happen next.
The British government has not gotten an idea of what it is like to live on the border and is again using it as a political football, said Powell, a lobbyist with the Belfast Agency for Women’s Resources and Development.
The Great Friday Agreement of 1998 brought peace to Ireland and today the line marking the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is invisible.
Powell said border communities are appalled by the insecurities and problems of Brexit.
Last week, Johnson started to establish military language, claiming that the EU is plotting to carve out our country and stifle food supplies with new destabilizing barriers between the UK and Northern Ireland.
If we do not agree with the terms of the EU, the EU will use an extreme interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol to impose a full-scale trade border below the Irish Sea, Johnson wrote in the Telegraph.
Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney dismissed Johnsons’ claims that Europe wanted to block Northern Ireland as completely false.
Europeans are desperate that Johnson has introduced a bill before Parliament that would violate key parts of the Brexit withdrawal treaty, an agreement Johnson signed just nine months ago, calling the pact historic and fantastic.
The withdrawal agreement aims to narrow trade and customs issues, to allow Northern Ireland to come out together with the rest of the UK, but to maintain easy trade and psychological ties with the Republic of Ireland, which will to remain part of the EU in the absence of a free trade agreement, there will certainly have to be some sort of control between north and south to set tariffs and quotas.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the Northern Ireland protocol signed last year posed no threat to the integrity of the UK. He wrote on Twitter, We agreed on this delicate compromise with Boris Johnson and his government in order to maintain peace and stability on the island of Ireland. We could not have been clearer about the consequences of Brexit.
Martin OBrien is a veteran peacebuilding activist from north Belfast who worked to ensure that strong human rights were included in the Good Friday deal. Brexit and this particular Brexit form of governments, a difficult Brexit started regardless of the consequences for Northern Ireland, he said.
OBrien called the withdrawal agreement signed by the UK and the EU last year a carefully constructed mechanism to try to minimize the worst consequences of Brexit.
Now the government has decided to compromise and, again, this is extremely destabilizing, he said.
Queens Belfast University professor Katy Hayward said, We should be familiar with this so far, fueling a political storm over Northern Ireland and its post-Brexit country, but we are no less tired of it.
She said, the anxieties are only growing …. We face the hope that the UK will flagrantly violate international law and use the Northern Ireland position as an excuse for it. This sets a whole new precedent. And very badly warns of peace.
During the Troubles, more than 3,500 were killed, more than half of them civilians.
Brandon Lewis, Johnsons Minister for Northern Ireland, admitted in the House of Commons last week that the new bill to amend the Brexit agreement with Europe would break international law, but, he said, only in a specific and limited way. .
Johnson’s move has set alarms in the U.S. Congress, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warning that today’s open border between north and south must be guarded at all costs. Undermine the Good Friday pact, Pelosi said, and there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade deal passing Congress.
If Britain and Europe are unable to sign a trade agreement by the end of the year, then World Trade Organization rules would apply to goods traded between the EU and the UK, with tariffs and quotas set in both directions. Supply chains 40 years in the process can be unlocked.
On the island of Ireland, there is growing concern that Johnson is attacking a Brexit without a deal.
Ensuring a zero tariff, zero free quota free trade agreement with the EU remains critical to the future of UK businesses, said Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We urge ministers to redouble their efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement with our largest trading partner at a crucial time in the negotiations.
Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major joined forces to condemn Johnsons’ attempt to violate the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, calling it shameful. They urged lawmakers in the Labor and Conservative Parties to vote down the bill.
It raises questions that go far beyond influence in Ireland, the peace process and negotiations for an important trade agreement even though they are. It calls into question the integrity of our nation, the duo wrote in the Sunday Times.
Since then, the bill cleared an initial vote in the House of Commons.
Sammy Wilson, a senior figure in the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, said his group would introduce changes to Johnsons law. But he dismissed as full bunkum former prime ministers worried that Irish peace could be resolved.
Wilson said the Johnsons bill would make it easier for Northern Ireland to do business with the UK with fewer paperwork.
Booth reported in London.
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