Brexit: UK 'can't decide unilaterally' on protocol says Coveney
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Relations between Britain and Brussels remain tense after the UK announced it was unilaterally extending a series of “grace periods” to allow businesses in Northern Ireland more time to adapt to post-Brexit rules. The move has infuriated the EU which accused the UK of breaching commitments Mr Johnson signed up to in the Northern Ireland Protocol of the EU Withdrawal Agreement.
Theresa May sought deeper relationship with the EU and was roundly humiliated by them
There is no appetite in Brussels to renegotiate the Protocol which has led to the disruption of goods movements between Britain and Northern Ireland.
But political expert Mujtaba Rahman said EU leaders now believed Mr Johnson was trying to move into a position from which he can ditch the accord.
Mr Rahman, who has worked at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs and at the UK Treasury, said: “The EU is coming around to the view that Boris Johnson and David Frost’s ultimate objective is to create a context that allows them to argue the protocol doesn’t work and must be revisited, renegotiated or scrapped.
“A radicalised DUP, far from being a problem for Government, is a weapon 10 Downing Street can use to achieve changes to it they seek.
“The EU also believes the Government’s tough approach is serving the Tories electoral interests and Frost’s personal career ambitions well. Why would it change?”
But Mr Rahman, who is now the European managing director of the Eurasia Group consultancy, said there were two sides to every story and that British officials rightly point out that Brussels and the EU capitals have never wanted Brexit to succeed.
He said: “A combination of Ursula von der Leyen, Emmanuel Macron and historically Donald Tusk’s previous statements show how corrosive the EU’s narrative towards UK has been.
“Theresa May sought deeper relationship with the EU and was roundly humiliated by them. Officials on both sides acknowledge this.
“Is it any wonder Johnson/Frost concluded only a tough approach can work?
“The Government thinks EU has ended up with relationship it deserves.
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“The EU’s focus on UK personalities – Michael Gove vs David Frost – also deflects criticism away from the way it structurally deals with third countries – largely on the basis of stereotype, where the hardest member state’s line often prevails. A ‘lowest common denominator’ approach.”
Mr Rahman said this was the context within which the latest Brexit row should be seen and why it will take a long time to resolve.
He said: “Narrowly it’s about technical fixes/easements to the Great Britain – Northern Ireland border.
“Broadly, it’s about UK sovereignty/single Market integrity – and everything that has happened since 2016.”
The EU’s ambassador to the UK has called on London and Brussels to “give up on trying to score points” and ensure there is trust between both sides.
Joao Vale de Almeida told a Westminster briefing he wanted there to be the “best possible relationship” between Britain and the EU post-Brexit amid disputes over trade arrangements.
He said the UK and EU had a “special relationship” as he called for the two sides to focus on making the agreements already reached work.
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Mr Vale de Almeida said: “I think we need to make an effort to change the mindset and give up on trying to score points and focus ourselves on what we can do for making out of the agreements that we made – the Withdrawal Agreement on one side and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement on the other.
“With coherence, with consistency and with common willingness to move together…
“For all that we need to have high levels of trust – mutual trust.
“Trust is maybe the most important commodity in international agreements.
“When there is no trust, when levels of trust go down, you are less capable of finding solutions.”
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