British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday (22/7) urged the European Union to “seriously” review Britain’s proposal to overhaul its post-Brexit trade deal with Northern Ireland, but faced immediate resistance from Brussels.
Speaking to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Johnson said in a telephone call that the so-called Northern Ireland protocol was “untenable” and needed “significant changes”.
In a 28-page document published Wednesday, the Johnson administration demanded the European Union renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol after unrest and business disruption in the province.
“He urges the European Union to take the proposal seriously and cooperate with the UK,” a Downing Street spokesman said shortly after the conversation.
But in a tweet released at about the same time, von der Leyen said he had made clear the regional bloc’s opposition to reviewing the pact, which took effect earlier this year.
“The European Union will continue to work creatively and flexibly within the framework of the Protocol,” von der Leyen further explained. “But we will not renegotiate.”
In its proposal, London did not directly suspend the protocol, which requires inspection of goods coming in from the UK mainland, and instead called for “significant changes”.
The UK demands that the EU indefinitely remove the ad-hoc grace period for certain border checks and freeze legal action against the UK for non-compliance, as part of “a period of silence” allowing new negotiations to be held.
The UK also wants more input on the regulations adopted in the province and the elimination of the oversight role by the European Court of Justice.
This arrangement was negotiated to avoid the presence of a real physical border with Ireland, which would allow Northern Ireland to remain in the EU single market.
Northern Ireland, which suffered from three decades of sectarian conflict until a peace accord was reached in 1998, has been rocked by violence this year, partly because of its opposition to the protocol.
Many groups who support union with Britain view the protocol as creating a de facto border in the Irish Sea with the British mainland, and as a result they feel betrayed, while many businesses, especially supermarkets, struggle to adapt to the new rules. [mg/jm]