The United Kingdom and the European Union (EU) proclaimed on Monday “a new chapter” in their bilateral relationship, after closing an expected agreement on trade controls in the British province of Northern Ireland.
After months of tension and arduous negotiations, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the deal at a press conference in Windsor, west London.
“It is the beginning of a new chapter in our relations,” Sunak said. “The UK and the EU have perhaps had their differences in the past, but we are allies, trading partners and friends,” he stressed.
“What we have agreed today is historic,” added Von der Leyen, who also spoke of a “new chapter” in the relationship between Brussels and London before meeting King Charles III in Windsor.
Rishi Sunak explained that the new agreement significantly lightens the de facto customs that had been lifted in the Irish Sea to protect the single European market in the British province after Brexit.
Under the new pact, only goods likely to go to the neighboring Republic of Ireland, that is to say to the single market of the EU, will be subject to controls. For products destined only for Northern Ireland there will be free shipping.
The agreement “will improve the prosperity of both the European Union and the United Kingdom,” reacted White House spokesman John Kirby. French President Emmanuel Macron declared for his part that the pact “will protect our European internal market.”
A controversial protocol
The agreement announced yesterday modifies the so-called Northern Irish protocol, signed in January 2020 as part of Brexit.
The text kept Northern Ireland within the single European market for goods, and provided for customs controls on products arriving in this British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Its aim was to avoid a “hard” land border between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.