It was last Christmas Eve when the EU and UK finally struck a Brexit trade deal, after years of wrangling, threats and missed deadlines to seal their divorce.
It was expected that the now-separated Britain and the 27-nation bloc would lead their ties to calm waters.
One thing is clear with Christmas kicking off again – it was not meant to be.
Britain’s Brexit minister on Tuesday accused the European Union of wishing its former member a failure and denigrating Britain as a country that cannot be trusted.
David Frost said during a speech in Lisbon that the EU “doesn’t always look like it wants us to succeed” or “get back to working creatively together.”
He said a radical rewrite of the mutually agreed divorce deal was the only way to fix the former “brittle relationship”. And he warned that Britain could push an emergency override button on the deal if it didn’t get its way.
“We constantly face generalized allegations that we cannot be trusted and that we are not a proper international actor,” said Frost – the EU’s response to claims that the UK is seeking to negotiate a legally binding treaty and Asking to sign.
Post-Brexit tensions have crystallized into a worsening battle over Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that shares a land border with an EU country. Under the most delicate and controversial part of the Brexit deal, Northern Ireland remains inside the EU’s single market for goods trade to avoid a hard border with EU member Ireland.
This means that customs and customs checks must be carried out on some goods going to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, despite the fact that they are part of the same country.
The rules aim to prevent Britain from entering the EU’s tariff-free single market while keeping an open border on the island of Ireland – a key pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process.
The UK government soon complained that the systems were not working. It said the rules and restrictions impose cumbersome red tape on businesses. Nothing less than a belligerent metaphor, 2021 has already brought a “sausage war”, with Britain asking the EU to ban processed British meat products such as sausages entering Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s British federalist community says the Brexit deal undermines the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement – which sought to protect the rights of both unionist and Irish nationalist communities – and Northern Ireland’s ties with the rest of the UK. by weakening
Block has agreed to look into changes to the protocol, and is due to present proposals on Wednesday. Before that move, Britain raised the stakes again, with Frost calling for sweeping changes in the way the agreement was governed.
In a speech in the Portuguese capital, Frost said the protocol “is not working.”
“It has completely lost consent in one community in Northern Ireland,” he said. “It is not doing the job it was set up to do – protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. In fact it is doing the opposite. It has to change.”
Most controversially, he said the EU should also remove the European Court of Justice as the final arbiter of trade-related disputes in Northern Ireland and instead agree to international arbitration.
He added that the role of the EU court “means that the EU can make laws that apply to Northern Ireland without any kind of democratic scrutiny or discussion.”
The EU is highly unlikely to agree to Britain’s demand. The bloc’s supreme court sees free trade as the pinnacle of the single market, and Brussels has vowed not to dilute its own order.
Ireland’s minister for Europe, Thomas Byrne, said the bloc’s members “will remain completely calm, we will remain united, but we will remain steadfast in our objectives.”
He said the EU would try to improve the trade system, but dismissed the issue of the role of the European court as “entirely principled”.
“It has no practical application and no one has picked it up,” he said.
Some EU observers say Britain’s demand to remove court oversight shows it is not serious about making the Brexit deal work.
If Britain went through with the threat of invoking Frost’s Article 16, a clause that would allow both parties to suspend the agreement in exceptional circumstances, it would send already strained relations into a deep freeze and Britain and could lead to a trade war between the bloc – one that would hurt Britain’s economy more than its larger neighbour.
The financially minute but symbolically charged subject of Fish, which last year struck a trade deal until the last minute, is still raging divisive.
France this week was rallying its EU partners for a united stance and action if London will not give smaller French fishing boats more license to roam close to Britain’s crown dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey. , which hug the Normandy coast of France.
In France’s parliament last week, Prime Minister Jean Casteux accused Britain of reneging on its promise to catch fish.
“We see in the most obvious way that Great Britain does not respect its own signature,” he said.
In a relationship where both parties often fall back on clichés about each other, Castex was recalling the centuries-old French acronym “Perfidius Albion,” a nation that can never be trusted.
Across the English Channel, UK Brexit supporters often portray the EU hurt by Britain’s departure, doing their best to make Brexit less of a success by removing bureaucratic hurdles.
“The EU and we have come to a less equilibrium, (a) somewhat fractured relationship,” Frost acknowledged. He added that it “doesn’t always have to be like this, but … it takes two to fix.”