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EU to remain vigilant but helpful on Irish border protocol

Catherine Feore

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European Commission Interinstitutional Relations Vice President Maroš Šefčovič updated EU ministers on EU-UK relations (20 April) and the most recent developments, including his meeting with Lord Frost.

On the Withdrawal Agreement, the EU is insisting on the full implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Šefčovič emphasized that the UK must take a joint approach where there is mutual agreement on compliance, with accompanying concrete milestones and deadlines. 

Asked about British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suggestion that there were “absurd and unnecessary barriers” created by the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, Šefčovič said: “When it comes to the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, this agreement was negotiated, signed and ratified by the government of Prime Minister Johnson,” adding that all agreements that had been signed and ratified must also be implemented.  

Šefčovič said the barriers were the consequence of the type of Brexit which was chosen by the British government. He underlined that it was the UK that had rejected proposals by the EU on questions of co-operation on animal health, which resulted in some of the problems Boris Johnson was referring to. 

At the same time Šefčovič repeated that Northern Ireland could have the best of both worlds, being part of the European Single Market for goods and in the UK internal market. He said: “I believe that we can make it work so that it could bring additional investment, additional businesses and also create new jobs in Northern Ireland if we find the good solutions to the outstanding issues we are discussing right now.”

The EU’s approach remains to be vigilant but helpful. In particular, Šefčovič said he was ready to listen and help local actors in Northern Ireland. 

On the EU/UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, he welcomed the European Parliament committees clearing the way for a plenary vote in April. The TCA is important in providing effective governance tools to enforce both the TCA and the Withdrawal Agreement.

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Ireland

NI Unionism in trouble

Ken Murray, Dublin correspondent

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With three high profile unionist leaders quitting their roles in the space of two weeks, protestants in Northern Ireland are facing in to a critical period of political uncertainty. As Ken Murray reports from Dublin, a merger between the two main parties that are struggling to guarantee long-term British rule in the Province may be the best option for the future and even at that, there’s no guarantee it will work!

Two weeks ago in a somewhat surprising bolt out of the blue, members of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party staged something of a rebellion when they signed a treacherous letter calling on their leader Arlene Foster (pictured) to step down.

The unexpected move sent shockwaves through the political system on the island of Ireland.

Mrs. Foster, 50, was having a bad enough week as it was having found herself in a Belfast court locked in a defamation case against Channel 4 TV celebrity Doctor Christian Jessen who implied in a tweet that the married unionist Leader had been having an extra-marital affair with a member of her security team.

If that wasn’t stressful enough to contend with in any week, Mrs. Foster was then shafted by her colleagues.

The rebels ruthlessly decided to blame her after their Party had been shafted by Boris Johnson for the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the new controversial Brexit arrangement whereby certain goods entering NI from GB have to be checked at ports in Belfast and Larne.

As the hardliners saw it, her failure to prevent this development sees Northern Ireland notionally edge closer towards unification with the Republic of Ireland and further away from the grasp of London.

DUP Party colleague and unionist hardliner Sammy Wilson MP implied that her successor faces just as tough a time in the job as Brexit and other issues show no sign of going away.

He told BBC N: "Maybe a new leader will not be able to escape from some of the unfair criticism which has been attached to Arlene on this.”

To add to the DUP’s difficulties, the Party’s deputy Leader Lord Nigel Dodds, who quickly saw the sharks heading in his direction, also quit his role last week.

To make matters worse for Northern Ireland unionism, the Leader of the once un-beatable and rival Ulster Unionist Party Steve Aiken, a former commander in the British Navy, resigned as party leader on Saturday last just as the SNP was about to secure 64 seats at Hollyrood in Edinburgh and increase its call for an end to the union with Britain!

In a resigning statement, Steve Aiken said he “had taken the Party as far as he could.”

With the UUP failing to elect any MPs to Westminster in 2019 surpassed by the smaller Alliance Party which secured one and only holding 10 seats in the NI Assembly compared to 28 for the DUP, it seems Mr. Aiken hadn’t taken the Party very far at all!

Unionism on both sides of the Irish Sea is clearly in trouble!

On Friday next May 14th, the DUP will elect a new leader.

Edwin Poots, the ultra-religious, homophobic and climate change right-winger is currently the favourite and he has indicated that if elected, he will stall co-operation with Dublin on North-South bodies while simultaneously seeking a legal review of the NI Protocol.

All that before he puts road blocks in the way to prevent the introduction of the agreed Irish Language Act, moves which could increase sectarian tension.

If his rival Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who opposed the 1998 British-Irish Peace Agreement succeeds, continuity with Foster is expected albeit with greater emphasis on bringing greater unity within the divided DUP and increasing pressure on London to end the NI Protocol.

“I will go on a listening tour to re-connect with communities and members on the ground”, he said last week suggesting the Party needs to do more to connect to its grassroots members in the heartland.

In the meantime, the beleaguered UUP will continue the search to appoint its 6th leader in 16 years!

Doug Beattie is expected to take control but it’s a job no other apparent candidates are putting their hands up and shouting “Please pick me.”! Did I say unionism is in trouble?

Whoever succeeds, the would-be leader faces unstoppable forces that the DUP have little or no control over.

Rapidly changing demographics indicate that the pro-Irish unification party Sinn Féin will win the most seats in next year’s 2022 Assembly elections in Northern Ireland putting them in the political driving seat for the first time since 1921!

Added to this, the Northern Ireland Census to be published next year is 99.9 per cent likely to see the number of catholics surpass the number of pro-British protestants in the province for the first time since the 17th century, ensuring a louder call from Irish nationalists for an historic unification referendum.

With internal warfare going on within the DUP and the UUP not knowing if it’s coming or going, the questions begs as to where these two parties are headed for as Sinn Féin slowly starts to emerge over the hill with its victory flag partly aloft ready for the far-off ultimate prize of a united Ireland.

The much respected political commentator Alex Kane, a former communications officer with the Ulster Unionist Party, believes the time has come for the two rival unionist parties to put their ideological differences aside and amalgamate.

Speaking to BBC NI TV on Sunday Politics, he said, “if they [the UUP] don’t get it right this time, if they do not make progress whether the [Assembly] election is in September or some time next Spring, if they do not win seats, increase their votes make a dent on the Alliance [Party], it’s a waste of time and I do know that certain people in the Ulster Unionist Party who quite like the idea of a gentle merge in to the Democratic Unionist Party.

“…….this is an existential moment for the Union, an existential moment for unionism and I think that if it is Doug Beattie and I suspect it will be Doug Beattie [who succeeds Steve Aiken], that is going to be his biggest challenge.”

Unionism is definitely in trouble and all that before Boris Johnson deals with the fallout from the Scottish Assembly elections.

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UK

European Commission calls for calm over Jersey fishing dispute

Catherine Feore

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Following the recent rise in tensions over fishing licenses linked to the waters surrounding Jersey, the European Commission has called for calm and for the UK to comply with the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. 

Commission spokesperson Vivian Loonela said: “The situation where we are is that on the 13 April, we were notified by the UK authorities that they had granted 41 licences to EU vessels who are fishing in Jersey’s territorial waters, but there were additional conditions set to these licenses (for 17 of the applications). 

“We have seen that the provisions of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) that we recently agreed have not been respected. According to the agreement, any new specific conditions that limit fishing in UK waters need to comply with the objectives and principles set out in the TCA, but also have to have a clear scientific rationale and those conditions have to be non-discriminatory between the UK and EU vessels,” Loonela added, “Any new conditions have to be notified in advance to the other party, so that there is sufficient time to assess and to react to the proposed measures. We have indicated that until we have received further justifications from the UK authorities, we consider that these new conditions should not apply.”  

Asked whether the French threat to cut off Jersey’s electricity supply was proportional, a further Commission spokesperson, Daniel Ferrie, who deals with all Brexit related questions said that the all parties had to respect the dispute resolution procedures laid down in the TCA agreement.

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Brexit

UK sends two navy boats to Jersey after France threatens blockade

Reuters

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The Mont Orgueil Castle is seen behind an island flag at Gorey Harbour in Jersey, in this February 26, 2008 file photo.  REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain is sending two navy patrol boats to the British Channel Island of Jersey after France suggested it could cut power supplies to the island if its fishermen are not granted full access to UK fishing waters under post-Brexit trading terms, write Richard Lough and Andrew Macaskill.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged his "unwavering support" for the island after he spoke with Jersey officials about the prospect of the French blockade.

Johnson "stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions," a spokesperson for Johnson said. "As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two Offshore Patrol Vessels to monitor the situation."

Earlier, France's Seas Minister Annick Girardin said she was "disgusted" to learn that Jersey had issued 41 licences with unilaterally imposed conditions, including the time French fishing vessels could spend in its waters.

"In the (Brexit) deal there are retaliatory measures. Well, we're ready to use them," Girardin told France's National Assembly on Tuesday (4 May).

"Regarding Jersey, I remind you of the delivery of electricity along underwater cables ... Even if it would be regrettable if we had to do it, we'll do it if we have to."

With a population of 108,000, Jersey imports 95% of its electricity from France, with diesel generators and gas turbines providing backup, according to energy news agency S&P Global Platts.

Jersey's government said France and the European Union had expressed their unhappiness with the conditions placed on the issuance of fishing licences.

Jersey’s external relations minister, Ian Gorst, said the island had issued permits in accordance with the post-Brexit trade terms, and that they stipulated any new licence must reflect how much time a vessel had spent in Jersey's waters before Brexit.

"We are entering a new era and it takes time for all to adjust. Jersey has consistently shown its commitment to finding a smooth transition to the new regime," Horst said in a statement.

The rocky island sits 14 miles (23 km) off the northern French coast and 85 miles (140 km) south of Britain's shores.

The French threat is the latest flare-up over fishing rights between the two countries.

Last month, French trawlermen angered by delays to licences to fish in British waters blocked lorries carrying UK-landed fish with burning barricades as they arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Europe’s largest seafood processing centre.

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