Three years after Britain officially left the European Union, the wrangling over its future trading relationship with the bloc has lost none of its political toxicity.
When former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally ended the UK’s problematic relationship with Brussels on 31 January 2020, there was a general sense of relief among politicians of all persuasions that the bitter arguments over Europe’s future relationship with Europe could finally be laid to rest.
Johnson’s success in winning a landslide victory in December 2019, when he achieved the largest Conservative parliamentary majority since Margaret Thatcher was in power, was achieved primarily because of his campaign promise to “Get Brexit Done”.
Under his leadership, London finally concluded a wide-ranging withdrawal agreement covering a wide variety of issues such as money, citizens’ rights, border arrangements and dispute resolution.
While not perfect, the agreement, which was approved by both the British and EU parliaments in late January, set the framework for Britain’s future trading relationship with Brussels while allowing London the freedom to pursue new trade deals with other parts of the globe.
But while the withdrawal agreement succeeded in its main objective of concluding the tortuous negotiating process over Britain’s future ties with Brussels, one major flaw soon emerged in the shape of the separate arrangements Johnson had negotiated relating to Northern Ireland’s trading relationship with the EU.
From the outset of the Brexit process, which began with Britain’s historic 2016 decision to leave the EU, the Northern Ireland issue has proved to be one of the most problematic.
While constitutionally a part of the UK, the province is the only part of the country that has a direct land border with the EU, in the form of its 310-mile long border with the Republic of Ireland.