fFrance’s President Emmanuel Macron and Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin see a “golden opportunity” to settle trade disputes with the British government over Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit. Both agree on the “importance of a new and vibrant partnership” with the United Kingdom, a statement said after Macron and Martin met in Paris on Thursday. There is an opportunity “now” to resolve issues relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Martin expressed “thanks to the French President” for his “unwavering solidarity with Ireland during Brexit”. On November 10, Martin met with the new British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who expressed a willingness to settle the dispute.
Northern Ireland is currently in a political deadlock over the protocol negotiated between London and the European Union. With the agreement, Northern Ireland remains part of the European single market, creating a de facto customs border with the island of Great Britain. Northern Ireland’s unionists find this unacceptable, fearing for Northern Ireland’s affiliation with the United Kingdom. That is why the main Protestant party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has been blocking the formation of a new government in Belfast and the proper functioning of Parliament for months.
New elections for the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement?
Its chairman Jeffrey Donaldson sees himself strengthened by his actions. The DUP is at 27 percent in polls, having received 21 percent in the previous vote in May, he told reporters in London. “We are ready to campaign when an election is called. I am sure that the position of the DUP would be strengthened in an election.” At the same time, however, Donaldson rejected a new election. This only leads to an even stronger polarization in Northern Ireland. “We need a solution, not a choice,” he said.
There is currently no government in Northern Ireland. As a condition for entering a unity government with the Catholic-Republican party Sinn Fein, the DUP is demanding that the special rules agreed upon by Great Britain and the EU after Brexit be lifted. If the DUP does not let go of its blockade, the British government will have to call a new election – of all times around the time of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April next year. However, London recently extended the deadline by which this must be done, possibly to January.
Donaldson urged Britain and the EU to reach an agreement quickly. It is possible to resolve the Brexit dispute by the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. “But that will require greater determination on both sides.” Donaldson has denied allegations that the DUP is blocking an agreement. His party made sensible proposals, he said.
The so-called Northern Ireland Protocol between London and Brussels is intended to prevent a hard border on the Irish island. However, this has created a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland must remain open under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
“Protocol has alienated unionists from the political system,” Donaldson said. Food prices in Northern Ireland have risen due to customs duties and bureaucracy, and some items are no longer sent from the UK to the provinces at all. Northern Ireland must follow numerous EU laws that do not stand up to reality, said the party leader. The protocol endangers the political consensus in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement. Donaldson rejected EU proposals to solve everyday problems as insufficient.