Brussels is launching two new infringement proceedings before the CJEU against London for failure to comply with the Protocol on Northern Ireland.
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Once again, Northern Ireland finds itself at the center of post-Brexit tensions between the European Union and the United Kingdom. This is not the first time that Boris Johnson has brandished a piece of legislation to claim to rewrite the protocol on Northern Ireland, hard-negotiated for more than four years with the Commission and only two years after its entry into force. . Bluff? Diversion from heated public opinion? Anything is possible with the British Prime Minister, who survived a vote of no confidence and is getting back on track.
In Brussels, the reaction is ready. “It is inconceivable that the UK should decide unilaterally which goods should enter the European single market,” EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic said on Wednesday. The Commissioner says he keeps his door open to new talks and regrets that since February no constructive dialogue has been possible with his partner Liss Truss, Her Majesty's Foreign Minister.
Border controls neglected by London
To tell the truth, on the side of the Commission, we are not panicking. The fact that the Johnson government has chosen to introduce a bill does indeed leave time for parallel discussions. Nevertheless, the Commission considers, after consultation with Member States and European parliamentarians, that this draft law is a “without justification” violation of an international agreement. And as such, two infringement procedures are launched. The letters sent to the UK on Wednesday demand that London take prompt corrective action so that the terms of the protocol are once again respected. The UK has two months to respond to the letters.
It is meant in London the absence of controls of the sanitary and phytosanitary rules (SPS) of the EU, the neglect of the checkpoints in Northern Ireland, devoid of the necessary means and infrastructure. Boris Johnson's teams are also blamed for the failure to report statistical trade data relating to Northern Ireland, as required by protocol. Without this data, the Commission considers that it cannot get an idea of the possible trafficking which is bound to develop at the borders of the single market.
The leader of Sinn Féin denounces Johnson's attitude
In short, for the EU, the British take pleasure in abysmal bad faith and contribute to disorder. But what about the Irish themselves? “The protocol is working,” Mary Lou McDonald, leader of the Northern Irish Republican Party, Sinn Féin, told Sky News on Sunday. She claimed that “a significant majority” of elected members of the Northern Ireland assembly “support the protocol”. Mary Lou McDonald finds it dishonorable that Boris Johnson is using the Northern Ireland Protocol to “inflate his ego and leadership ambitions for himself or his successor”.
The Commission, for its part, regrets that London refuses to take into account the concrete proposals to simplify the procedures proposed, in October 2021, to make life easier for Northern Irish and English traders. Maros Sefcovic had proposed reducing border controls by around 50%, down to one 3-page document per truck, but carrying out more cargo investigations once they enter the single market.< /p>
“It does not hold up,” retorted a British source. This proposal only reduces fields, not red tape, and leaves the most burdensome commodity codes in place. With regard to health checks, London complains that all goods are still obliged to demonstrate their conformity to European standards even if they are only intended for Northern Ireland. The British point out that, in supermarkets, the Commission's proposals would lead to the “disappearance of common items from the shelves” such as “Lincolnshire sausages and other chilled meats from Britain”. In memory of the mad cow disease, the Commission prefers, for its part, to prevent any new epizootic by protective vigilance of European consumers.
Europe has changed its legislation on medicines
On medicines, the EU amended its own legislation in April so that pharmaceutical companies with a hub in England no longer need to duplicate or relocate it to Northern Ireland. They can proceed from English territory at no additional cost. Finally, to ensure maximum adherence to the Northern Irish protocol, the Commission proposed to associate the protagonists more closely through a dialogue structure (companies, parliamentarians).
To facilitate the discussions, the Commission had agreed to suspend a first infringement procedure opened in March 2021 when it emerged that the United Kingdom was not implementing certifications for the movement of agri-food products. The negative attitude of London forces the Commission to relaunch this procedure before the CJEU.
The legitimacy of the CJEU rejected by London
However, the UK refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the European Court in disputes over the Northern Ireland Protocol. “It would be adding a violation of international law to another international violation”, cowardly, fatalistic, Maros Sefcovic “We seek to give stability and predictability to market participants and it is not by opening a new negotiation on Northern Ireland that we will succeed in achieving this objective, completes an official from Brussels. We believe that this agreement contains the best solution.
The measures presented by the Commission on Wednesday to make life easier for Northern Irish and English traders cover four areas: sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls, customs rules, medicines and governance of the agreement. The EU is basically proposing less border checks, less paperwork, but more on-the-spot investigations once the goods have entered Northern Ireland, i.e. once in the single market .