Despite Christmas truce, EU and UK are still arguing over Brexit deal

A year after the Brexit trade deal was supposed to end the acrimony between the European Union and the UK, both sides showed on Friday that it was still a tainted relationship with bad blood and bad faith accusations.

They postponed talks over their deep and persistent differences until the New Year, a welcome respite since their trade talks last year missed countless deadlines and reached Christmas Eve before an awkward compromise was struck. be found.

But on a day when the 27-country bloc was counting on positive feedback for what it saw as a groundbreaking proposal to regulate the drug trade in Northern Ireland – which is part of the UK but also part of the UK’s trading system ‘EU – he got a lukewarm response.

Almost all of the other issues under discussion were dismissed.

In a 13-point statement riddled with complaints about the EU’s dragging its feet, unwillingness and sleight of hand in Northern Ireland, UK Brexit negotiator David Frost concluded: “It is disappointing that it was not possible to reach a full agreement. or an interim agreement valid this year.

His EU counterpart, Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, retorted from the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels that “if the UK returns our efforts, our energy and our ambition that we bring to these discussions, we could be much further ahead now ”.

Frost said the suspension of parts of the Brexit deal under art. 16 procedure was still very much present.

“We remain ready to use the Article 16 safeguard mechanism if that is the only way to protect the prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland,” he said. Experts say it would only be a small step from such a suspension of a full-fledged trade war between the two sides.

To make matters worse on Friday, French authorities said they would take legal action against Britain over a months-long unresolved fisheries dispute. The decision came after French President Emmanuel Macron met with a delegation of French fishermen.

That a small industry like fishing can claim such a central place in the relationship between the massive trade bloc and a historic ally has only underscored the rapid erosion of trust since Britain voted to leave the country. ‘EU in 2016.

An often reluctant partner, even as an EU member, Britain eventually agreed to a withdrawal deal, in which the compromise on Northern Ireland proved unwieldy and impractical.

Northern Ireland is British territory, but it remained part of the EU’s borderless trading market for goods when the UK left the bloc last year, causing practical problems for businesses and institutional wrangling over which side is responsible for what.

The UK is also insisting that the EU cede final legal control by its Supreme Court of any Northern Ireland trade dispute, and instead submit them to independent arbitration – which the bloc of 27 country categorically rejects.

Governance in Northern Ireland, said Frost, “remains a fundamental question of democratic accountability”.

The EU complains that it was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government that accepted the specific deal he now opposes. Last year Britain pushed through legislation it said broke international law by canceling parts of the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement it signed with the EU.

“I can assure you that violating international law, violating the agreements signed just a few months ago, does not create confidence, does not facilitate negotiations,” Sefcovic said on Friday.

In October, the EU presented a series of proposals to ease trade between Britain and Northern Ireland in what it saw as a potential deal, but Frost rejected them on Friday.

“Although we have worked with the proposals put forward by the Commission in mid-October, they do not solve the problems and, even in some ways, return us to the current unsatisfactory status quo,” Frost wrote.

Improving the trade in medicines had been negotiated for weeks now, and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney welcomed the progress made on the issue. He hoped this would “act as a catalyst to resolve other protocol issues early in the New Year.”

The Brexit deal gives Northern Ireland special trade status which guarantees the opening of the border to the island of Ireland. It has been an essential pillar of the Northern Ireland peace process since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which ended years of fighting.

But it does mean a new customs border in the Irish Sea for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, even if they are part of the same country.

This has created red tape for businesses and caused problems with some goods reaching Northern Ireland.


Jill Lawless contributed London

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