Brexit: EU ‘can’t bear’ UK success says Ben Habib
Brussels has suffered a series of incredibly public blunders in its coronavirus vaccine rollout in recent months. The humiliation culminated in the bloc’s decision to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, after complaining that the UK-based Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developers had breached their contract by not delivering the promised quantities of the jab. Just hours after this announcement, the EU revoked this emergency measure, which was intended to block unimpeded vaccines from the bloc entering Northern Ireland from its southern neighbour, the Republic of Ireland.
Those both inside and outside the bloc were horrified by such actions, and how Brussels was quick to take its frustration out on the UK.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster described the move as “an absolutely incredible act of hostility” while, reportedly, even officials in the EU member state of Ireland were stunned that the emergency clause was almost put in place.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has claimed the bloc now admits the move was “a mistake”.
But, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced only this week he would also consider triggering the controversial Article 16 to “ensure there is no barrier down the Irish Sea” — demonstrating that tensions between the UK and the EU are likely to continue being displayed via the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Protocol was an essential part of the withdrawal agreement, and means that while the region left the EU along with the rest of the UK, it still follows EU trade rules to prevent a hard border anywhere on the island of Ireland.
A trade border runs down the Irish Sea instead.
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The UK and the EU have been in a spat over vaccine supplies and the NI Protocol recently
The Article 16 clause allows both the UK and the EU to act unilaterally when the Protocol is leading to serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.
However, further hostilities between the UK and the EU have been on the horizon ever since Mr Johnson and then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar signed up to the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to commentator Anand Menon.
He explained: “One of the major problems with the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol has been the issue of checks on animal and plant products.”
These are also known as sanitary and phytosanitary checks, shortened to SPS checks.
Mr Menon continued: “That Brussels was willing to give the UK a far less generous deal over SPS checks than it gave New Zealand was indicative of the EU’s new attitude towards the UK, which it sees as a geographically proximate economic competitor.”
After the UK signed a last-minute Brexit deal, New Zealand farmers will have to go through less red tape than those in Britain.
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Varadkar and Johnson discussing the NI Protocol with NI’s Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill
As the BBC Economics editor Faisal Islam tweeted: “The food industry, already smarting from events, saying the lack of equivalcen for Great Britain’s agri-food/Sanitary and Phytosanitary Meassures (SPS) is problematic.
“As it stands, they say ‘New Zealand has a closer relationship on SPS with the EU than Britain from January 1’ with an agreement that limits checks (1 percent) and simplifies paperwork.”
The EU signed an agreement with New Zealand in 1996, which reduced compliance costs of the industry and improved market access for New Zealand products entering Europe.
Director of The UK in a Changing Europe Mr Menon then explained that, due to the Protocol, Westminster and Brussels would be bound together despite Britain’s departure from the EU.
Mr Menon claimed the EU is likely to therefore take on a “confrontational approach” towards Brexit Britain through the Protocol, especially as the bloc is determined to show that the UK’s departure is not successful.
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To deter euroscepticism, it is keen to point the finger at Westminster as evidenced in its demand that the UK shares some of its vaccine supply with the bloc after it experienced production delays.
Yet, its action over the AstraZeneca vaccine has been branded the “best advert for Brexit” by Germany’s newspaper Die Zeit.
It claimed: “It is acting slowly, bureaucratically and in a protectionist manner. And if something goes wrong, it’s everyone else’s fault.”
Mr Menon continued: “For some in the EU, securing wins over the UK will remain politically advantageous, as will the ability to highlight the negative impact of Brexit.
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“Meanwhile, EU-bashing will allow Johnson to continue scoring political points with his own party and against his opponent Keir Starmer.”
Writing in The Guardian, Mr Menon concluded that these tensions are now “the new normal”.
Mr Menon also noted that these frustrating interludes were likely to continue despite the trade and cooperation agreement between the UK and EU, the two sides will be forced to continue negotiations over how it is implemented.