Boris Johnson is playing a risky game this week. How else should one understand the appearance of his Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis in the British House of Commons, who, with the introduction of a new Brexit Bill, has just announced the breach of the Brexit Agreement with the EU: “Yes, this does break international law.”
Lewis spoke the provocative words at the very moment when the negotiations between his country and the EU entered a new, decisive final round in London.
Johnson had destroyed the basis for talks
We may well associate one with the other and then land – at the prime minister’s own risky game. For Johnson himself had negotiated and signed the Brexit Agreement of October 2019. He obviously wants to push Brussels to declare negotiations to be over because Johnson had just destroyed the basis for talks. Johnson, for his part, is counting on his country’s Brexit-enthusiastic media, which at this moment would not blame him but the infamous Eurocrats in Brussels.
He has long since gained the nickname as a U-turn politician in the British media, so often before, during and because of the Corona crisis has he retracted, toned down or turned into the opposite his grandiose announcements. Johnson “is a joker who plays poker with Britain,” British political scientist Anthony Glees explained on Tuesday on Deutschlandfunk radio.
Playing with the fate of the UK and the EU
My suspicion is that he is playing with the fate not only of his own country but also of the EU. For the breach of the Brexit Agreement primarily affects Ireland and Northern Ireland and thus possibly lays the fuse to a decade-long Irish conflict, euphemistically called The Troubles, which was only pacified with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and could be defused with the backstop regulation in the Brexit Agreement.
Since then, Ireland has had all EU members at its side – for a moment even Great Britain and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. For with the backstop rule he drew the very line in the Irish Sea that his predecessor Theresa May would have only agreed to over her dead body. She had to go, Johnson came and signed the backstop, which effectively leaves Northern Ireland in the EU even if the United Kingdom turns its back on it. As a reminder, in the 2016 Brexit Referendum, 55.8% of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.
Barnier alone can’t break off the negotiations
We will see how much EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is impressed by all this in London these days. He alone cannot decide about the provoked break off of the negotiations, not even the EU Commission or its President Ursula von der Leyen (who will give her first State of the Union speech on September 16th) would dare to do so alone. But a special summit of the heads of state and government is scheduled for the end of September.
The fact that Brussels does not want to let Johnson simply play the fool is shown by the nomination of Mairead McGuinness from Ireland as Commissioner for financial services and capital markets. The City of London and No.10 Downing Street will have little pleasure in this. Brussels does not play poker. But it can certainly defend itself.
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