Hot topics | Coronavirus pandemic

Northern Ireland, which is the focal point of Britain's row with the European Union, is intensifying

Northern Ireland, which is the focal point of Britain's row with the European Union, is intensifying

Britain set itself on course for a new confrontation with the European Union on Tuesday by requesting the replacement of one of the most complex and tumultuous aspects of Brexit: the status of Northern Ireland.

David Frost, the Conservative governments Brexit minister, requested an overhaul of an agreement on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is a member of the United Kingdom but shares skewed political views with Ireland and is an EU country in. In he addressed diplomats in Lisbon, Portugal, Frost called for reorganization of nri's post Brexit trade agreements with the Irish mainland, whose political border with it is politically sensitive.

The move is a major escalation in lingering debate over how Northern Ireland fits into the British withdrawal from the EU. Frosts proposed new trade legislation, the Northern Ireland protocol, discards some elements that Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to less than two years ago and includes proposals the EU has already rejected.

We now face a very serious situation: The protocol isn't working, Frost said, arguing that the agreement was doing the opposite of protecting nirvana's fragile peace process.

His speech was as if it were a preemptive strike, coming just one day before the European Commission, the blocs executive body, is due to present its own strategies to address the trade tensions it acknowledges have resulted primarily between Britain and Northern Ireland.

The protocol was designed to avoid resurrecting a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and has resulted in checks on goods flowing from Britain to Northern Irish.

To safeguard the integrity of the EUs huge single market, of which Ireland is a member, this is done. But it has stifled Unionists in Northern Ireland, who see their place within the United Kingdom as central to their identity and who resent checks on goods flowing from mainland Britain, which is part of the same country.

While some believe Johnson intends to withdraw from the protocol to please Brexit hard-liners at home, others consider Tuesdays speech by Frost more as a tactical intervention designed to reduce Brussels influence on any part of the UK and maximize British sovereignty.

For its part, the EU has repeatedly rejected Britains demands for a renegotiation of the agreement.

This article first published in The New York Times.

You may also like: