► What happened?
A month after Brexit, the first tensions appear in Northern Ireland on the maritime front. For several weeks, employees of the ports of Larne and Belfast responsible for health and customs controls have been regularly threatened. To the point of making the local authority withdraw Mid and East Antrim Borough de Larne its twelve employees responsible for participating in sanitary and veterinary inspections, Monday 1er February. She said she was worried “For their safety”.
→ REPORT. Brexit, day 1: in Northern Ireland, “the world will not stop turning”
The Northern Irish Department of Agriculture also reacted, ordering the suspension of veterinary inspections at both ports. Document checks should continue. Same thing on the European side. Brussels considered it more prudent to ask its Northern Irish staff to “Not to carry out its missions” Tuesday February 2.
On both sides, calls for calm have multiplied. But tensions have remained high since Brexit cast its shadow between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
► What does the post-Brexit agreement provide for Northern Ireland?
The Northern Irish question had been at the heart of the dissensions between London and Brussels during the Brexit negotiations. The two parties barely managed to avoid the return of a border between the two Ireland which would have signed the death of the Good Friday Agreements, which in 1998 ended the civil war. Rather than re-establishing a physical border between the Republic of Ireland, under the European flag, and Northern Ireland, integrated into the United Kingdom, the negotiators moved customs controls on the sea.
Northern Ireland has remained integrated into the EU’s single market and customs union while continuing to be part of the UK. But, “The British did not seek to negotiate mutual recognition for the sanitary and phytosanitary sector as Switzerland had done. They undoubtedly wanted to keep flexibility to allow themselves to deviate from European standards in order to facilitate the negotiation of an agreement with the United States ”, recalls Elvire Fabry, Brexit specialist at the Jacques Delors Institute. The transport of agrifood goods is suddenly at the heart of tensions today.
► What are the reasons for the anger?
The special status of Northern Ireland considerably complicates trade with the rest of the United Kingdom. The overload of administrative procedures and their cost block part of the economic exchanges on both sides of the Irish Sea, especially since, from now on, it is necessary to meet criteria of “rules of origin”, otherwise the products that go from Great Britain to Northern Ireland for consumption in the Republic of Ireland are also subject to customs duties. A problem “Underestimated in the political debate which covered the negotiations”, Elvire Fabry point.
→ EXPLANATION. Northern Ireland, a persistent Brexit puzzle
For unionists, this difference in treatment is unacceptable. “They don’t want to be separated from the UK and they feel aggrieved by the government in London”, decrypts Richard Davis, professor of British civilization at Bordeaux Montaigne University.
Last Friday, the announcement and then the back-pedaling of the European Union which planned to institute controls on its vaccine exports to Northern Ireland, against a background of disagreement with the AstraZeneca laboratory, threw oil on the fire. “The Unionists saw in it an encouragement to the reunification of Ireland”, says Richard Davis.
In the midst of an economic and health crisis, these tensions raise fears of violence. “What we wanted to avoid between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is moving on the coast, within the United Kingdom itself”, summarizes Elvire Fabry.