Which Brexit agreements would the UK unite?

Brexit dispute: EU initiates proceedings against Great Britain

For two and a half months, following the provisional entry into force of the trade treaty between the UK and the EU, things have been relatively quiet. Brexit and its effects had almost disappeared from the scene in Brussels. But now the dispute between the EU and Great Britain is breaking out again. There is talk of playful trust, broken contracts and legal steps. Why all of a sudden so much drama?

The UK cannot implement the provisions of the Brexit deal as quickly as planned. A transition period until the end of March was agreed for the due control of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which together form the United Kingdom.

This is now running out and the UK government sees major problems with carrying out these controls in Northern Irish ports. That is why the responsible British minister, David Frost, simply unilaterally announced an extension of the transition period until October 2021.

Maros Sefcovic, Vice-President of the EU Commission: London violates treaties

Brussels feels betrayed, Belfast too

This unilateral move caused outrage in the EU. The otherwise rather cautious acting Vice President of the EU Commission, Maros Sefcovic, foamed and spoke of the "violation of the treaties" and the "breach of international law". The path of "constructive joint work" in the responsible bodies had been abandoned. Words have now become deeds: the EU has launched infringement proceedings against Great Britain. At the same time, Sefcovic called on British Brexit representative David Frost to refrain from the unilaterally announced extension of tariff relief for agricultural and food transports to Northern Ireland until October 1.

In Northern Ireland, one politician in particular foams. The chairman of the unionist party Arlene Foster, who insists on close ties to Great Britain, accuses the EU of being inflexible and of ignoring the practical problems, even the crisis, that the controls would create for Northern Ireland. "The EU just doesn't do anything," Foster railed.

Premier Johnson and his Brexit Minister Frost (right): International practice

In Brussels, people coolly refer to the Brexit agreements, which provide that there should be no hard border between the EU member Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland after the United Kingdom leaves the EU. Instead, Northern Ireland remains together with Ireland in the EU's duty-free and control-free internal market.

At the same time, however, a customs and goods border is created between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, in the Irish Sea, so to speak. The British government under Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved this procedure, also on behalf of Northern Ireland. This complicated arrangement is intended to save the shaky peace in Northern Ireland, which is also based on economic ties with Ireland, the EU and open borders.

In fact, goods controls are currently suspended anyway after threats from pro-British Northern Irish activists against the customs officers in January.

Peace Process in Danger?

The allegations fly back and forth. Both sides assume that they are endangering the peace after the bloody civil war in Northern Ireland between unionists and separatists, which was laboriously concluded on Good Friday 1998.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to downplay the problem in London. One can find workable solutions "with common sense" and good will. Government officials claimed the UK had not broken any treaties. Unilateral extensions of transition periods are quite common internationally. An interpretation of the law that EU diplomats in Brussels do not share.

Unionist Paul McCann says there has been unrest on the island since an English king conquered Ireland in 1690

There is also excitement in Ireland, the EU country that has the only national border with the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland). Irish Europe Minister David Byrne said it would be very dangerous if the British acted alone now, especially with a view to Northern Ireland.

"If the British want a permanent dispute with the EU, please! But leave Northern Ireland out of the game." The source of the problems is the Brexit itself, the Northern Ireland Protocol with the regulations on goods controls in the Irish Sea is the solution, and the only one. "This behavior is not expected from a country like Great Britain," added Ireland's Vice Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

A "wall of peace" still separates pro-British and pro-Irish neighborhoods in Northern Ireland's capital, Belfast

Further escalation?

And what happens now? Not at all at first. The European Parliament postponed the final approval of the Brexit trade agreement in protest against the move from London. The vote was actually planned for this month. The agreement is only provisionally in force because it was only sealed on Christmas Eve, a week before the final Brexit.

In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, paramilitary groups loyal to the Union with Great Britain have declared the Brexit agreement null and void. They wrote in an open letter that they would no longer support the "Good Friday Agreement" of 1998. However, they did not want to react with force, but wanted to oppose the Northern Ireland Brexit Protocol.

On another stage, the UK and the EU are still negotiating market access for London banks to the EU financial market. We should continue here first. How long? The EU certainly sees approval for the "City of London" as an ace in Brexit poker.

An EU diplomat summed up the events in Brussels as follows: Confidence has been destroyed after only two and a half months of Brexit practice.