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The EU Throws a Futile Temper Tantrum

At the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, in 2016. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Earlier this week, the House of Commons in Westminster passed the Internal Markets Bill, a law that asserts British sovereignty over sovereign British territory. Fairly uncontroversial, right? Downright tautological, even. 

Not according to the European Union. As I wrote about here, the British government made an ill-advised decision last year to sign on to a very bad Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union. The text of this agreement allowed the EU to economically annex Northern Ireland, one of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom, and to keep it under the European customs and regulation regime. The EU’s pretense for demanding Northern Ireland as their pound of flesh during Brexit negotiations was that a fluid and permeable border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is impossible otherwise. The consequent erection of border infrastructure would, we are told, risk a flare-up of the horrific violence that has ravaged the island of Ireland since the United Kingdom was partitioned in 1921. The contention that only European control of Northern Ireland is necessary for avoiding a hard border is false, as the EU itself has admitted. But it’s a politically useful story to tell in order to gain leverage over the U.K. during negotiations. 

Discovering that such a situation is in fact wholly unworkable for a fully independent and sovereign nation, the British government passed the Internal Markets Bill. As the U.K.’s Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis has admitted, the bill violates the Withdrawal Agreement by reclaiming British sovereignty over Northern Ireland. 

Needless to say, the EU is not pleased by this turn of events. They served Boris Johnson’s government with a “letter of formal notice” this week that could eventually lead to a case against the British government being brought at the European Court of Justice. According to Brussels, the U.K. has breached Article V of the Withdrawal Agreement, which obliges both parties to work together in good faith. Appealing once again to the tried-and-true “peace in Ireland canard,” they are attempting to characterize the British government’s actions as endangering the agreement that brought an end to violence in Northern Ireland. The EU Commission protested, “The EU does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft bill is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) agreement. In fact, it is of the view that it does the opposite.”

Thankfully, the EU seems finally to be receiving diminishing returns from their relentless appeal to this manifest falsehood. The legal process on which they have just embarked against the U.K. would take years to reach resolution. Happily, the United Kingdom will have completely extricated itself from the legal order of the EU (including the jurisdiction of ECJ) by the end of this year. The threats issued this week are purely political in nature, made in the full knowledge by all parties that they cannot be carried out. I suppose that the purpose of all this bluster from the European perspective is to show the British that they “mean business,” but all it really demonstrates is how out of practice they are when it comes to treating countries on their own continent as diplomatic equals. The time is fast approaching when the EU will no longer be able to threaten and bully the U.K. into line with the prospect of sanctions legal action from within its own technocratic apparatus. These “legal actions” really amount to no more than a final, impotent temper tantrum thrown by the Commission in response to the approaching, ineluctable advent of British independence. 

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