In Northern Ireland, many are preparing for hot days, possibly with arson attacks. The post-Brexit dispute is putting the whole region under stress. Goods deliveries between Great Britain and Northern Ireland have been controlled since January. This is what the Northern Ireland Protocol to the EU Withdrawal Treaty, signed by Boris Johnson’s government and the EU, demands. For the transport of goods across the Irish Sea, companies must submit extensive customs declarations and certificates, especially for food and agricultural products. The trade feels paralyzed by this. Northern Ireland supermarkets initially struggled to fill their shelves with groceries.
Many English hauliers and online retailers have completely stopped deliveries due to customs duties. The “sausage war” has been provoking headlines for weeks – it is about the threat of EU import controls for chilled meat and sausages. Another three-month grace period was agreed at the end of June to allow deliveries of British meat products to Northern Ireland.
Highlight of the annual Northern Irish “march season”
Lord Frost, the British Brexit Minister negotiating with the EU, considers the Northern Ireland Protocol in its current form to be unsustainable and calls on the EU to agree to pragmatic easing. The protocol is intended to prevent the need to set up a hard (customs) border within Ireland that could endanger peace. Northern Ireland remains de facto in the EU customs union and in the single market. Therefore, goods deliveries in the Irish Sea must be controlled. British-oriented “Unionists” feel betrayed. They fear that little Northern Ireland of only 1.8 million people will gradually split off from the Kingdom.
Tensions could intensify in the coming days. It is the highlight of the annual Northern Irish “marching season”. On July 12th, the British Protestant “Loyalists” of the Orange Order will march again on the streets of Belfast, Londonderry and elsewhere. More than a hundred parades with drum rolls and flags have been announced. The evening before, the loyalists light large bonfires again, reminiscent of the beacon that the troops of King William III of England in 1690. (of Orange) who won the decisive victory over breakaway Irish troops the next day in the Battle of the Boyne. This conflict-ridden history is still virulent today. Three decades of bloody civil war between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists did not end until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This year, not only bonfires are expected on July 11th, but possibly also arson attacks and protest signs against the European Union. “EU out of Ulster” is written on posters by unionists.
For its part, London is trying to step up pressure for the EU to make concessions and require fewer controls in the Irish Sea. Deliveries to supermarkets in Northern Ireland should be waved through without customs documentation. Brexit Minister David Frost has announced that the Johnson administration will present a “new approach” by July 22nd. So there could be a unilateral action within the next two weeks. In March, the British government unilaterally extended the transition period during which the EU rules for the importation of animals, meat and agricultural goods into Northern Ireland were suspended by three months until the end of September.
The European Commission responded with infringement proceedings. “The past few weeks would have been intense,” said a high-ranking EU official recently summarizing the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol – a clear understatement from a Brussels point of view. The French government in particular has exerted great pressure to be more tough on the British and has called for retaliation. If the British government takes “further unilateral actions”, the UK must “be persuaded to adhere to the treaty by all available means,” announced the Commission Vice-President Šefcovic in June. Specifically, it was about punitive tariffs on the import of British goods into the EU.
In the end, at least the commission was a little more conciliatory. The EU has offered to revise its own drug approval rules to facilitate the supply of generic medicines to Northern Ireland. The same applies to the seemingly banal question of how a smooth border crossing for guide dogs can be ensured. “We want to stand by the people of Northern Ireland,” commented a Commission representative on this course, but immediately restricted: “But we will also show all the necessary severity if Great Britain does not meet its obligations under the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
The “new” transition period for chilled meat until September 30th must now be used seriously by the British side in order to find a permanent solution. “We cannot renew the period every three months because the British are not doing their homework,” the commission said. “We need a permanent solution.”