The United Kingdom and the European Union (EU) proclaimed on Monday “a new chapter” in their bilateral relationship, after close an agreement on trade controls in the British province of Northern Ireland.
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After months of tension and arduous negotiationss, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the deal at a press conference in Windsor, west London.
“It is the beginning of a new chapter in our relationships. The UK and the EU have had their differences in the past, but we are allies, trading partners and friends.”, said Prime Minister Sunak. “What we have agreed today is historic,” added Von der Leyen, who also spoke of a “new chapter” in the relationship between Brussels and London before meeting King Charles III in Windsor.
Rishi Sunak explained that the new agreement lightens the customs that had been de facto lifted in the Irish Sea to protect the single European market in the British province after Brexit. Under the new pact, only goods likely to go to the neighboring Republic of Ireland, that is to say to the single market of the EU, will be subject to controls.
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For products destined only for Northern Ireland there will be free shipping. “The cumbersome customs bureaucracy will be abolished,” Rishi Sunak promised.
The agreement modifies the so-called Northern Irish protocol, signed in January 2020 as part of the ‘brexit’. The text kept Northern Ireland within the single European market for goods, and provided for customs controls on products arriving in this British province from the rest of the United Kingdom. Its objective was to avoid a “hard” land border between the two Irelands.
The protocol was also considered essential for the stabilization of Northern Ireland, which ended with the Good Friday Agreements of 1998. However, that text outraged unionists, enraged with customs controls in the Irish Sea and reluctant to any measure that questions Northern Ireland’s membership in the United Kingdom.
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The British government even threatened to a unilateral reform of the protocol, which cooled the relationship and threatened a trade war. Sunak must now “sell” the deal to Northern Ireland unionists and Brexit-friendly elements of his Conservative Party.