How Northern Ireland is complicating Biden’s European agenda

“Brexit happened, and the United Kingdom formally left the European Union. But the UK and EU are still arguing over the deal they both signed on the status of Northern Ireland.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in 2016, it created the tricky issue of what to do about the land border between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (which is an independent country and part of the EU).

It is no ordinary border. During the decades of bloody sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, that border was heavily militarized, and it served as both a symbol of the strife and a very real target for nationalist paramilitary groups.

A critical part of the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 peace process that ended the Troubles, involved increasing cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That meant softening the border between the two. As a result, the 310-mile border is practically invisible and completely free from checks and physical infrastructure today.

But once the UK and EU split up, that would become the only land border between the UK and Europe. And with the two sides following different trade rules (that was one of the main points of Brexit), there would need to be some kind of checks put back in place to regulate the goods crossing the border.

So you see the problem: Not having any checkpoints or physical border is seen as critical to maintaining the peace. But the UK’s departure from the EU (and its trading rules) made some sort of customs check necessary.

The UK and the EU ultimately coalesced around a plan that carved out a special status for Northern Ireland. It would leave with the UK but follow many of the EU’s rules, thus keeping that land border open. To achieve this, certain goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of Great Britain would require checks, just in case they ended up in the EU’s single market. This put a customs border in the Irish Sea — effectively, within the UK.”

“In March, a set of grace periods expired for some provisions, and at the time, the UK just unilaterally extended those deadlines. The EU reminded the UK that, this being a treaty and all, the UK couldn’t just act alone, and so sued them for breaking international law.

Now another set of grace periods is expiring at the end of the month, including a provision related to chilled meats, such as sausages. The UK now needs to start conducting regulatory checks on any chilled meats coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of Great Britain. If the UK doesn’t do them, it would effectively prevent Great Britain from selling its own sausages in Northern Ireland, since those, in theory, might be at risk of entering Ireland, which could mean illicit sausages in the EU single market.

The sausage dilemma is really just the latest fracture between the EU and UK. The EU thinks Boris Johnson’s government isn’t an honest broker and is likely to renege on the protocol once again.

“It’s not about sausages per se, it really is about the fact that an agreement had been entered into, not too long ago,” Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Micheál Martin said. “If there’s consistent, unilateral deviation from that agreement, that clearly undermines the broader relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which is in nobody’s interest.”

Johnson, meanwhile, says he’s defending the territorial and economic integrity of the UK. His government has accused the EU of failing to do anything to minimize the trade frictions, which may leave them no choice but to get rid of the deal entirely. The problem, of course, is that Johnson himself signed up to the rules that he no longer seems to like very much.”

“the protocol has revived tensions in Northern Ireland itself, specifically among the unionist community in Northern Ireland.

The unionists reject any division between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (i.e., they support the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland), and some feel, not totally incorrectly, that they were shunted aside in the Brexit deal. Some unionists are urging the UK to scrap the deal entirely. Northern Ireland saw unrest back in the spring, and there are fears over renewed violence, especially as “marching season” reaches its peak on July 12, when loyalists — extreme unionists — engage in parades and demonstrations.”

“The “sausage wars” may sound silly, but Biden will struggle to create this coalition of democracies to serve as a counterweight to authoritarianism if the EU-UK divorce keeps getting in the way. And it’s just a lot harder to sell the vision that the US and its partners are the ones to trust over China when key members of that group are backing out of agreements or engaging in a trade war.”

Britain Is Granting Record Numbers of Passports to Hongkongers. America Should Take a Hint.

“China has criticized Britain for opening its doors in this way, but the U.K. deserves praise for acting quickly and decisively in defense of freedom. Bloomberg’s reporting certainly suggests that demand is surging for this escape route.

It is shameful that America has not stepped up to do something similar.

Hongkongers currently have few options for coming to America. They can seek political asylum in the United States—and an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in July does reserve more spots on the refugee list for people fleeing Hong Kong—but to claim asylum one must be physically present in the United States. That, in turn, requires having another type of visa in order to get on a plane across the Pacific. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has slashed the number of political refugees the country will accept: just 15,000 during the current fiscal year, down from 85,000 in 2016.

Britain issued nearly four times as many BNOs to Hongkongers in October as the number of refugees America will accept from the entire world this year.

What could America do instead? Some members of Congress have proposed a bill to automatically grant asylum to any resident of Hong Kong who arrives in the United States and to exempt those numbers from the official refugee counts set by the White House. A more robust idea, proposed by Matt Yglesias in May, would be to grant a special visa allowing Hongkongers to settle in American counties where the population is shrinking, with permanent residency granted after five years.”

Rare win for Boris Johnson — but Brexit storm hasn’t passed

“In the very short term, however, it looks like plain sailing for Johnson. The deal, which will be subject to a ratification vote in the U.K. parliament on December 30, is highly likely to pass.

Some Conservative MPs, who have said they will study the deal in depth over the coming days, may quibble over details, but the overall shape of the agreement is — and has been for some time — one that represents a fundamental victory for Brexiteers. The U.K. will leave the EU’s single market and customs union. It will continue to manage its economy under rules similar to those in the EU, but if it wants to change those rules in the future, it has the freedom to (with consequences in the shape of tariffs).

Even on the totemic issue of fisheries, where the U.K. gave ground in the latter stages of the talks, none but the most purist Brexiteer could claim that the final settlement (a five-and-a-half-year transition period to a situation where the U.K. is free to decide who accesses its fishing waters) is not a major change from the status quo.”

“Johnson’s claim during his announcement that there will be “no non-tariff barriers” to trade is not correct. The deal removes tariffs and quotas. It doesn’t remove mountains of new paperwork for firms looking to trade with the EU, as the government’s own copious sets of instructions for businesses testifies.”

The last-gasp Brexit deal negotiations, explained

“The United Kingdom and the European Union have been trying for the last 11 months to negotiate an agreement that will define their future partnership after the UK formally left the bloc in January. But both sides remain stuck on major points — fishing rights, guaranteeing a “level playing field” on government subsidies and regulations, and how to enforce any deal — with very, very little time before the year-end deadline.

Getting a deal is in the interests of both sides, but reaching, ratifying, and implementing any deal in three weeks is going to be a challenge — and might not be feasible at this late stage.

But without any framework, the EU and the UK could face major disruptions in January on everything from trade to transport. It will be painful for both sides, but the UK, now all alone, is expected to feel that fallout more acutely, which will pile on to economic hurt brought on by the pandemic.”