The authors of the article in the British edition remind that when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019, he often called the EU countries “our friends and partners”, and many of his supporters believed that after the end of Brexit, a more constructive relationship between the two sides is possible. cooperation. Even those who criticized Johnson’s December trade deal for its fragility hoped that closer engagement on issues ranging from environment to foreign policy would enable the UK and the EU to develop cooperation. But, as it is now believed in London, three months later, the relationship seems more complicated than ever.
British experts state that, as they expected, the year began painfully, with serious trade restrictions. And although covid-19 and the stocks that were made in the run-up to Brexit make accurate analysis difficult, in January, exports of goods to EU countries fell by more than 40% compared to December, while with countries outside the zone EU, it has grown slightly. Exports of fish and shellfish decreased by 83%; food and beverage products by 75%, and exports of services appear to have declined.
The Economist notes that, among other things, the current situation is darkened by the wars over the covid-19 vaccine. For most of 2020, the UK has been slower to respond to the pandemic than the EU, but this year the British have been agile and launched mass vaccinations amid the dire state of vaccination in the EU. Moreover, many Brexit supporters see this as proof that they were right in their quest to leave the bloc.
The publication writes: in the face of nationalism that manifested itself in the EU against the background of the vaccination problem, the UK government showed restraint and did not particularly expand on the success with vaccination. And French President Emmanuel Macron questioned the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and “groundless” fears about blood clots, as London are convinced, forced many European countries to temporarily suspend the use of this vaccine. At the same time, EU leaders complained about the failure of AstraZeneca to fulfill its obligations to supply the vaccine in accordance with the contracts. The European Commission is now taking over responsibility for controlling vaccine exports, including to the UK, although on March 24, in an attempt to defuse the conflict, the parties issued a joint statement that they were working together to create a “win-win situation.”
The Economist notes that the vaccine controversy is probably easier to resolve than the Northern Ireland controversy. According to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is part of the Brexit agreement, the province remains effectively part of the single European market and customs union. And this inevitably involves border and customs control of goods that travel between the province and the rest of the United Kingdom, a fact that Boris Johnson often denies. The obstacles that have arisen are hampering trade between the two parties, in particular, everything related to food, beverages and plants is subject to regulation and jeopardizes the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.
Unionists, including Northern Ireland Prime Minister Arlene Foster, according to The Economist, literally hate the protocol because the Irish Sea border widens the gap between the two parts of Great Britain and would like to abolish it. But if the protocol goes into effect, a hard border will be required between the north and south to protect the integrity of the market, which will provoke opposition from Republicans, who do not like the idea of a land border as much as the unionists do with a maritime border.
The government continues to seek to mitigate the dire consequences of the protocol. However, experts admit: so far, negotiations in the joint oversight committee have failed after Lord Frost, who replaced Michael Gove as minister, unilaterally extended the grace period on some points under his control. As a result, the EU has brought legal action against Britain for this apparent violation, following the first action proposed last September in a domestic market bill. Lord Frost replies that the European Union itself considered the violation of the agreement on the export of the vaccine in January. This arrogant behavior on both sides demonstrates that trust is clearly in short supply.
According to London, one possible solution to the Northern Ireland conundrum is for the UK to formally align its veterinary and food safety standards with European ones, thereby minimizing control over food, beverages and plants crossing the border between the UK and the North. Ireland, which will facilitate British exports to the EU. Simon Hoare, chairman of the Northern Ireland House of Commons committee, spokesman for the Conservative Party, says this will solve 80% of the protocol’s regulatory problems. But the British government is reluctant to do so, partly because of its instinctive rejection of bureaucracy and partly because the government believes that the adoption of EU food standards could negate the chances of a free trade agreement with America. The publication warns that if a solution is not found, the trade deal with the United States will fail. President Joe Biden and Congress have made it clear that any violation of the Northern Ireland protocol will kill him.
Moreover, according to experts, it is absolutely inevitable that other problems will arise as a result of Brexit. Thus, the European Parliament is postponing the ratification of the December trade agreement, and Britain refuses to grant full diplomatic status to the EU ambassador in London. At the same time, most Britons want to improve relations with their large neighbor. A poll recently conducted by Ipsos mori for the EU-UK Forum showed that 78% of respondents favor a close relationship with a neighbor, with only 41% of respondents expecting it. The experts conclude that the positions of both sides do not give much reason for hope for an improvement in relations.
The Economist believes that today’s chaos with vaccines has aggravated the situation in the EU, but this situation will sooner or later be resolved. But one of the main concerns will remain: if Brexit is successful, it could prompt other countries to follow Britain’s lead. It is a well-founded fear, but Britain’s reluctance to take into account the specifics of Northern Ireland looks like a manifestation of indifference.
Experts note that Boris Johnson believes that in the long term, weakening ties with the slowly developing continent and closer cooperation with countries across the Atlantic and Asia will ensure prosperity for Britain. And the magazine sums it up: this distancing makes it easy to shift the blame for the problems posed by Brexit onto European bureaucracy and protectionism. Therefore, those who want closer cooperation on both sides of the strait are likely to be disappointed.
InoSMI materials contain assessments exclusively of foreign media and do not reflect the position of the InoSMI editorial board.