IN ITS ENTHUSIASM to wage war on Brexit the EU is, for the first time in its history, decisively and determinedly sacrificing the principle of peace in Europe under the guise of protecting its hallowed single market.
Martin Selmayr, once described as “the most powerful bureaucrat in the world” as deputy to former EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker – and often in the driving seat for the EU throughout the Brexit negotiations – was quoted at the time (though denied) as saying words to the effect that the loss of Northern Ireland “is the price Britain will pay for Brexit”. Although disputed, even former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said the claim had come from “people around” Martin Selmayr.
These were some of the first EU shots fired in anger and should have been a wake-up call in Whitehall.
Since then, the EU has cynically leveraged the Good Friday Agreement and hid behind the guise of upholding peace on the island of Ireland by encouraging Theresa May’s “back stop” and then on having a customs border in the Irish Sea. From the start the EU only ever offered a “deal” for Great Britain and not the whole of the UK.
By this stage May’s capitulation had painted Johnson’s negotiating position into a corner and the damage was done.
The hard-line faction within the EU will now continue to beat the UK with every stick it has over the implementation of the protocol, oblivious to the consequences for peace in NI.
The EU’s mask dropped momentarily to reveal its aggressive intent when Ursula von der Leyen cack-handedly applied Article 16 of the protocol that would stop export of vaccines to the UK through Northern Ireland in a panic-stricken attempt to divert attention away from the EU’s then disastrous vaccine roll-out.
The principle of avoiding a border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the peace was dropped like a hot potato when the opportunity arose to stick it to Britain on vaccine distribution.
So much for the EU’s principled support of the Good Friday Agreement.
Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton took up the fight again last week, threatening to block vaccine exports to the UK if the NI Protocol is not executed to the letter.
No passing reference is made to the threat to peace in Northern Ireland: the holy grail of the Protocol and single market rules will be applied in black and white terms as another EU cudgel with which to punish Britain for the outcome of its sovereign vote on Brexit.
In the heat of this mounting confrontation, which will continue to be a source of conflict on the island of Ireland, within the UK and between Britain and the EU, it is time the EU is reminded of its original reason for being: to reinforce peace in Europe in the post-war and Cold War paradigm.
If this remains the EU’s mission in the 21st century it must show the required flexibility to balance the principle of the maintenance of peace in Europe with the dictates of the Single Market.
Photo of Martin Salmayr (right) with Jean-Claude Junker during the EU2018BG Bulgarian Presidency – Presidential Council of the National Assembly and College of Commissioners Meetings, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/