Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Boris Johnson’s Brexit gamble risks EU trade war, good US relations and western unity

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There are suggestions the Prime Minister understands the danger of unilateral action on the Northern Ireland Protocol and is trying to get the can on track below

Since the UK left the EU, it has emerged that the Prime Minister has long viewed the Northern Ireland Protocol as somewhat temporary, something that would later be remedied after “Brexit was done”.

After months of threats, Boris Johnson has finally decided to take a risk and unilaterally tear up large parts of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland he signed less than three years ago.

It is true that the agreement contained provisions to revise the trade arrangements for Northern Ireland as they were put in place.

And Mr Johnson has reason to argue that the way the protocol is being implemented has not been sustainable, from the now-defunct hostilities in the “sausage war” banning British chilled meat from Northern Ireland to onerous rules for the Transportation of pets.

For months he has resisted unilateral measures and tried to find a compromise in negotiations with the EU.

But his hand was forced somewhat by the hardened position of unionists in Northern Ireland, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) collapsing the Stormont institutions pending a renegotiation of the protocol, which the EU opposes.

On the face of it, Mr Johnson is taking a huge risk that could seriously damage Britain.

First, the EU has threatened to start a trade war by imposing tariffs on British goods if the plans ever materialize – something that would be hugely damaging as Britain faces a potential recession.

Second, US President Joe Biden – who is of Irish Catholic descent – ​​and his allies have broadly sided with the EU in demanding a negotiated settlement under the current protocol, making it clear they would be skeptical of UK action one-sided.

A row with the Americans risks putting the prospect of a UK-US trade deal – once heralded as one of Brexit’s biggest gains – further on hold.

Third, this bickering between Western powers does not help when it comes to unity against Russia after Vladimir Putin’s horrific invasion of Ukraine.

But there is evidence Mr Johnson recognizes these risks.

The Prime Minister has sought to calm the rhetoric about the deal, notably pouncing on legislation as a method for unilateral action.

It will likely take months or even a year before it ever comes into effect, rather than the long-threatening triggering of Article 16 of the protocol to immediately suspend parts of the agreement.

It suggests that the game he’s actually entering into is being able to kick the can down the street so a fudge can be found, giving the DUP a ladder to climb down and back into the political institutions of to enter Stormont.

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