London and Brussels clash over Northern Ireland Protocol

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is despised by the loyalist and unionist community in British-controlled Northern Ireland

The UK and the European Union (EU) have once again clashed over the terms and conditions of the Northern Ireland Protocol as post-Brexit tensions show no sign of subsiding.

The latest spat was sparked after European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, said there is no alternative but the “full and correct implementation” of the protocol.

According to von der Leyen, the protocol constitutes the “only possible solution to ensure peace and stability in Northern Ireland while protecting the integrity of the EU single market”. 

Von der Leyen’s comments drew a kneejerk reaction from the British government, with a Downing Street spokesman urging the EU to take a “common sense”, “pragmatic” and “risk-based” approach to the protocol.

"The protocol relies on the support of all communities in Northern Ireland so it is disappointing that there was not more recognition from the commission president [von der Leyen] of the impact that the current operation of the protocol is having in Northern Ireland", the government spokesman added.

The Northern Ireland Protocol aims to maintain an open border between the Republic of Ireland and British-controlled Northern Ireland, but to do so it has to keep the latter in the EU single market for goods by way of enforcing customs rules at its ports.

The protocol is bitterly opposed by unionists and loyalists who argue this feature of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement will weaken Northern Ireland’s ties to the rest of the UK.

Opposition to the protocol touched off 12 consecutive nights of rioting and disorder by loyalist gangs across Northern Ireland in April.

Not surprisingly, the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) has reacted negatively to von der Leyen’s comments by claiming her statement “showed how little she cares about peace and stability in Northern Ireland”.

Established in 2015, the LCC purports to represent wide swathes of the Protestant, unionist and loyalist communities.

Most strikingly, loyalist terrorist groups like the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defense Association are represented on the LCC.

Ominously, only last week an LCC member told MPs that a return to violence in British-controlled Northern Ireland “could not be ruled out” in the event of the protocol’s durability.

Joel Keys told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Brexit and the Irish Sea border that he wasn’t “sure if and when violence will be the answer”.

By contrast, the Irish Republican group Sinn Féin has warmly welcomed von der Leyen’s strong position on the protocol.

Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard, who represents the South Down constituency in the House of Commons, claimed Northern Ireland businesses wanted “the protections the protocol provides”.

"It's time the British government stopped the charades and implement what it has already agreed”, Hazzard said.


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