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Senior EU officials are reportedly “very tired” and are on the brink of caving in over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which aims at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland. According to the European Managing Director of geopolitical risk firm Eurasia Group, Mujtaba Rahman, European Union officials are clashing with the UK Government, whom he says “simply wants to ‘fight every day'”.
His commentary comes after the bloc confirmed plans to table new proposals aimed at resolving ongoing difficulties earlier this week.
European Commissioner Maros Sefcovic promised “far-reaching” proposals addressing the problems, during a speech to the International Institute of Economic Affairs (IIEA) on the implementation of the Protocol, where he said: “A lot has been said by the UK politicians about the possibility of the UK triggering Article 16.
“I do not think that this has been helpful. It distracts us from working together to find solutions.”
In a series of tweets to his 28.2k followers, Mr Rahman discussed the EU’s proposals for addressing issues in Northern Ireland and referred to them as “substantive and far-reaching”.
He emphasised that Mr Sefcovic and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen played a key role in orchestrating the plans, saying that it has “taken a lot of time and leadership” from the pair to “get Commission services and member states into line”.
He claims that while European Union capitals “haven’t seen the final package and all the details, they’ve been socialised with what’s coming” and have been working collaboratively on an effort.
Mr Rahman states that this EU unity will be a “key weapon in any ensuing standoff” and that their ambitious proposals have been driven by two driving forces.
He says their ambitions have been firstly driven by “a desire to institute practical fixes to improve experience of citizens and businesses” in Northern Ireland, and then added: “But also, importantly, tactics.”
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The expert speculates that the approach provides ammunition if the Government rejects the proposals, as “it will be easier to rally member states behind a tough response, as the EU Commission will be able to credibly claim it went ‘as far as it could’.”
He also references the European Court of Justice within his commentary, which he claims the “EU will offer no concessions on”, something he deems “unsurprising”.
He states that as a result of this action, “senior EU officials are resigned to a fairly hostile response” from Government Minister David Frost, which he speculates “may come via A16 notification or ‘legal limbo’ with ongoing negotiations and grace periods, where Protocol isn’t applied”.
He claims that the European Commission has already considered such a factor though, and “are clear-sighted about where both could lead” in response to Ireland’s place in the Single Market being called into question.
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He states that he fears that the Government are “massively underestimating the likely EU response in these circumstances – circumstances where there would be growing pressure to institute checks & controls between Ireland & France & Ireland & other EU member states”.
He also speculates over the divisive nature of the actions by saying “no German Chancellor or French President would side with HMG putting a member state in such an untenable situation.
“The v[ery] purpose of Single Market is to eliminate barriers between members. If UK’s actions call that into question, the EU’s response could be much more forceful,” he continued.
The political risk expert speculates that retaliation could come in the form of suspension of the entire zero tariff / zero quota deal, which he says could be enacted through unilateral triggering a termination clause in the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
Mr Rahman writes that many people in Brussels “think a big simple move like this would be needed for [the] UK to finally understand that this is existential”.
He calls how during Brexit negotiations a series of “sequencing” took place, including a withdrawal agreement / Irish border and trade talks, which were used “precisely because [the] EU wanted to ensure it locked down a solution to [the] Irish border”.
He states that if such an agreement is currently being called into question by the Government, led by Boris Johnson then many think the TCA should be too.
In the final tweets in the thread, Mr Rahman states that with neither of those agreements in place “the politics won’t be easy”.
He says that many in Brussels “rightly fear that once A16 is triggered, no British PM, let alone Boris Johnson will be able to stand Protocol back up. With it will disappear the poss[ibility] of a negotiated solution to [the] Irish border.”
Before adding: “Senior EU officials are VERY tired. They think HMG simply wants to “fight every day”. Still, [the] EU will assume more risk & further bend [the] Single Market for [the] UK next week. HMG may not bite. But they should do so with an appreciation of the full consequences that then might follow.”
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