The Brief, powered by FACEBOOK – Sold down the river

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/MARK MARLOW]

Even those of us who have the rosiest impressions of our politicians know that they all twist the truth. Most get away with it, but the biggest lies have a nasty habit of catching up with them.

Ahead of his 2019 election landslide win, Boris Johnson promised that there would be “no border” between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and that the Good Friday Agreement would not be compromised.

He could have kept that promise. There were several ways to avoid a border in the Irish Sea and a hard border, the most obvious (and economically sensible) would have been for the UK to stay in the EU’s customs union or single market. But Johnson’s government flatly refused to countenance that.

By imposing a customs border in the Irish Sea, the Northern Ireland Protocol separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in terms of goods trade. The province’s Unionist and Loyalist communities, who passionately identify as British, have been sold down the river.

The irony is that these communities backed Brexit while a wider majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.

Whatever Tory lawmakers and their allies in the UK’s right-wing press may say, the problems of the Protocol are entirely self-inflicted. Johnson negotiated and agreed the Protocol with the EU and rejected the alternatives to it.

After a backlash from Northern Irish businesses, Johnson’s government sought to limit the damage by extending the grace periods during which customs checks on most goods and products are not required.

That prompted legal action from the European Commission and a fresh round of crisis talks between London and Brussels that will, hopefully, find some sort of compromise.

As the recent rioting and violence which injured close to 100 police officers last week demonstrated, the political settlement in the province is extremely fragile. The Protocol itself is not the main cause of the rioting.

One of the driving forces behind The Troubles was that Northern Ireland’s Catholic community was systematically discriminated against by the then Unionist majority. Now it is the Unionists who believe that they are victims of, as they describe it, “two tier policing”.

These are very different issues but they have a common theme. Both grievances are rooted in frustration that political leaders in Belfast and London have misled them.

As ever, Johnson and his Conservative governance have shirked any responsibility and sought to pin the blame for the dispute on the EU. This might cut some ice in sections of the English press but it is profoundly dishonest. Nor does it solve the root of the problem.

The cold fact is that Johnson’s Protocol pushes Northern Ireland away from the UK. The choice is quite simple: a hard Brexit or a semi-detached Northern Ireland.


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The Roundup

On the occasion of EURACTIV’s launch of its new ‘Digital & Media’ hub, Commission Vice President  Věra Jourová talked to us about issues currently impacting the European media landscape, from EU competition rules to the worrying behaviour of the Slovenian prime minister.

A phantom document proposing controversial border changes across the Western Balkans caused a political storm in the region and in Brussels this week. While most EU officials had little knowledge of the elusive document, the office of European Council President Charles Michel could not deny receiving it.

EU member states have adopted a revised mandate for ongoing negotiations with the European Parliament on the EU climate law, including limits on the role of carbon removals in the bloc’s 2030 climate target, according to EU documents seen by EURACTIV.

Europe’s highest court has dismissed the latest Dutch attempt to halt the ban on the controversial practice of pulse trawling, in a ruling that put boundaries to the science-oriented approach of EU lawmaking.

Three members of the European Commission have reacted positively to a public petition requesting the phase-out of cage rearing in the EU, expressing support to the initiative.

The European Commission plans to delay a decision on whether to label nuclear and natural gas power plants as a sustainable investment under green finance rules due to be published next week, according to a leaked document seen by EURACTIV.

Romania’s centrist government has approved a US-backed bill that effectively bars China and Huawei from taking part in the development of its 5G network.

Finally, don’t miss the latest editions of our weekly  Global and Digital Briefs.

Look out for…

  • EU foreign affairs ministers meet on Ukraine, Ethiopia and current issues on Monday

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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