Johnson appeals to the fight against the European Union to survive in his position

From London

One week after 41% of Conservative deputies voted in favor of his dismissal due to the Partygate scandal, Boris Johnson appealed to the lowest of partisan and national instincts to survive in his position: the fight against the European Union (EU). With the political credit for the invasion of Ukraine exhausted, its chancellor, Liz Truss, presented in parliament the legal grounds to unilaterally amend the Northern Ireland protocol, a special chapter of the United Kingdom’s troubled exit from the European Union (EU ).

The chancellor explained that this modification is “legal” and will end an “unsustainable” situation in which the citizens of Northern Ireland are treated differently from those of the rest of the United Kingdom. The EU, the whole of the British opposition, a significant number of conservative deputies, almost the entire political arc of the Northern Irish province and the businessmen pointed out that is a breach of the UK’s international obligations and expressed fear of the economic impact, especially the danger of a trade war with the main British partner.

What is the Protocol?

The Northern Ireland Protocol it is the bridge that made Brexit possible after four years of turbulent negotiations between the UK and the EU. The agreement that Boris Johnson signed with the European bloc in November 2019 stipulates that to avoid a land border customs between the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU) and Northern Ireland (member of the United Kingdom) a special border would be created in the Irish Sea. At this border, customs controls are carried out on products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain to verify that they are compatible with European laws: once approved, these products can circulate freely from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the world. European bloc.

The proposal of the British chancellor unilaterally changes this protocol establishing a dual regulatory system that allows businessmen to choose which regulations they want to adopt – whether the British or the European – and bypasses the check of products that arrive from Great Britain to Northern Ireland if they are not going to circulate from there to the Republic of Ireland.

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Micheál Martin, lamented that the United Kingdom failed to comply with an international treaty. “The natural expectation among democratic countries is that international treaties that are signed will be honored,” Martin said.

Liz Trus’s European counterpart, Maroš Šefčovič, warned that the announcement “seriously damaged mutual trust” and that the European Commission could relaunch its legal action against the UK for non-compliance. “The commission will first consider whether to continue the legal procedure that we put on hold as a goodwill gesture in September 2021. This unilateral conduct by the UK goes directly against this spirit of dialogue,” Šefčovič threatened.

Economic impact

The Central of British businessmen, the CBI, which represents 190 thousand companies, pointed out that the current policy regarding the EU makes many companies think twice before investing in the United Kingdom. “Many global firms see all this Brexit hype again and think this is not the time to bet here,” said Tony Danker, the CBI’s director general.

Last week the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD, predicted that the United Kingdom would be the economy with the worst growth rates in the G20 with the exception of Russia. The calculation of the Office for Budget Responsibility (autonomous entity, the Office of Budget Responsibility), is that the economy is going to shrink more due to Brexit than due to the pandemic. The GDP has fallen by 1.5% since the definitive exit from the EU on December 31, 2019 and will fall by a further 2.5% in the coming years.

What’s at stake?

It is clear that Britain’s ailing economy doesn’t need a trade war with the EU. The problem is that at the heart of the Ireland protocol debate is not the economy or Brexit or the future of the Northern Ireland peace process: it is Johnson’s political survival.

In February, the Russian invasion of Ukraine saved the Prime Minister from a virtual Knock Out due to the snowball that was the Partygate scandal (the around 100 parties at 10 Downing Street during confinement). Now he hopes to get the support of the hard and nationalist wing of the eurosceptic conservative deputies gathered around the European Studies Group (ERG). This group was instrumental in overturning Theresa May and replacing her with Johnson who promised to “get Brexit done” at any cost.

This tactic served in a country that had grown fed up with the paralysis produced by parliamentary indecision on Brexit: With the slogan “get the Brexit done”, Boris Johnson won a landslide victory in December 2019 that gave him an absolute majority in parliament and an air of invincibility.

Today the priorities are different: the shot can backfire. If the Bill bogs down in the House of Commons or the House of Lords, if it exposes, as it is doing, more divisions among the Tories, if it deals a further blow to the economy, it could be a lead life preserver that precipitates what Johnson wants to avoid at all costs: a new internal vote of the Conservative Party that costs him his job.

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