Trucks disembark from a ferry in the port of Larne, Northern Ireland, on February 2. Peter Morrison / AP
The European Parliament has decided this Thursday to paralyze the process of ratification of the trade and cooperation agreement reached between Brussels and London on December 24 and whose final entry into force is still pending approval by MEPs.
The vote was expected for the end of March and the green light was taken for granted for the pact that governs relations between the two blocs after Brexit.
But the groups have agreed to leave the date in the air in view of the new violations of the agreement by the government of Boris Johnson.
The European Commission, for its part, is already preparing an infringement file against the United Kingdom for breach of the EU exit agreement and the protocol on Ireland.
The procedure could end up before the Court of Justice of the EU which, according to the protocol, can rule on possible disputes in the form of a judgment after a preliminary question.
The new conflict, just two months after the Brexit transitional period expired on January 1, shows that the turbulent relationship between Brussels and London has not ended with the UK's departure from the EU.
The stumbling block of ratification in the European Parliament is, for now, symbolic because the Christmas Eve agreement can be applied provisionally until April 30 and both parties can agree that it remains in force pending confirmation.
But the postponement of the parliamentary consent vote denotes the hostile environment prevailing on both sides of the English Channel since the United Kingdom ceased to be a member of the EU.
German MEP David McAllister, chairman of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, regrets that the British government "has chosen to slide down the slippery slope of acting outside the Protocol [on Ireland]."
But he believes that the solution is not to enter into an escalation of tension.
The British Executive announced on Wednesday unilaterally that, contrary to what was agreed with Brussels, on April 1 it will still not apply customs and border controls to goods destined for the British province of Northern Ireland which, under the agreement of Brexit and the protocol on Ireland, it continues to be part of the European internal market despite the United Kingdom's departure from the EU.
"It is the second time that the United Kingdom violates international law", lamented on Wednesday the vice-president of the Commission and in charge of relations with London, Maros Sefcovic.
The Community Vice President telephoned David Frost, the British head of relations with Brussels, on the same day to express the EU's displeasure at the new violation of the agreements.
London already tried in 2020 to bypass the protocol on Ireland with an internal market law that was denounced by the European Commission and, finally, withdrawn.
Now, the community body is already preparing a new infringement file against the United Kingdom in relation, in particular, to the breach of article 12.4 of the protocol on Ireland.
That article includes the possibility of settling the dispute through a preliminary inquiry to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, an outcome that could further ignite Northern Irishmen who oppose their newfound dependence on the EU.
Johnson has run into stiff resistance in Northern Ireland to implement an agreement that,
, leaves that territory largely in the hands of Brussels for trade purposes.
European officials in charge of supervising customs controls on exports from the rest of the United Kingdom on the ground in Northern Ireland have received threats.
And the risk of a return to violence on the island, silenced by the peace accords of Good Friday in 1998, has risen several integers in the last two months.
This same Wednesday, a group of unionist paramilitaries wrote to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to warn him that they are withdrawing their support for the peace accords until the Irish protocol incorporated into the United Kingdom's withdrawal agreement is corrected. of the EU.
London was always aware of the risk it took in placing a maritime border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country, an idea that was suggested by Brussels and strongly rejected by then-British Prime Minister Theresa May, who negotiated most of the deal. of Brexit.
After the fall of May, largely overthrown by Johnson's push, the new prime minister accepted that Northern Ireland would remain integrated into the European market after the consummation of Brexit on January 31, 2020.
The historic concession went unnoticed during 2020 because the exit agreement established a transitional period without changes in the commercial relationship between the EU and its former partner.
But that grace period expired on December 31, 2020, and from January 1, 2021, the UK has become a third country for the EU.
British goods entering Northern Ireland are therefore subject to European controls.
The agreement provides for an exemption until April 1, but less than a month after the deadline expires, the Johnson Executive is unable to establish controls and has unilaterally postponed it until October 1.
The UK defies the EU and unilaterally alters the Irish Protocol
Brussels immediately rejected that unilateral decision, warning that it "constitutes a clear departure from a constructive approach" and "undermines mutual trust."
Sefcovic advised London that the Commission would activate the legal mechanisms provided in the agreements to act against the decision.
The Government of Ireland, the EU member most directly affected by everything that has to do with the protocol signed between London and Brussels, has also expressed its discomfort.
The Prime Minister, Micheál Martin, has been "disappointed in the unilateral decision taken by the British Government", which "undermines the confidence necessary to reach any agreement".