The tumultuous history of Northern Ireland | Explained

The story so far: On February 3, pro-Irish unity politician Michelle O’Neill from the Sinn Fein party made history by becoming the first Nationalist First Minister of Northern Ireland, after the opposition Democratic Union Party (DUP), the largest pro-U.K. party, returned to government ending a two-year long political deadlock in Northern Ireland.

What led to the political deadlock?

Northern Ireland is governed by a power-sharing agreement known as consociationalism as laid down in the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement) of 1998. This system believes that power should be shared equally between the various sectarian groups in a state, in this case, between the pro-Irish unity faction, called the Nationalists or Republicans, and the pro-U.K. faction, the Loyalists or the Unionists. Sinn Fein is the largest Nationalist political party, while the DUP is of the latter. The party that wins the largest vote-share will hold the First Minister position while the party with the second largest vote share will keep the post of Deputy First Minister. Of these two posts, one must be a Unionist and the other a Nationalist. Both positions hold equal weight and one cannot exist without the other.

In the 2022 elections, Sinn Fein finished first with a 29% vote share, while the DUP secured the second position with a 21.3% vote share. However, a government was not formed as the DUP exited Stormont (Northern Ireland’s Parliament) because it objected to the new border controls between Britain and the Island of Ireland, which came in the aftermath of Brexit. When the U.K. exited the EU, Northern Ireland became the only province to share a land border with an EU country (Republic of Ireland). The U.K. and the EU then came up with the Northern Ireland Protocol, which stipulated that the trade border, where goods are checked for compliance, would be shifted to the Irish ports, essentially making it a sea border. However, this was rejected by the DUP, which held that this was against the Good Friday agreement which sanctioned free movement of goods and people across borders. In protest, they exited the government and the political deadlock set in.

The U.K. and the EU then drew up fresh rules, called the Windsor Framework, which stated that on arrival at the border of Northern Ireland, goods will be demarcated into two. The ones which were entering the region would go into the ‘green lane’ with no inspections while those entering the Republic of Ireland (EU territory) would go to the ‘red lane’ for compliance checks. After assurance from the U.K. of Northern Ireland’s place in its internal market, the DUP has agreed to return to government.

How did Northern Ireland come into being?

Northern Ireland was the site of a 30-year civil war (1968-1998) known as ‘The Troubles’ between the Republicans and the Unionists, which killed over 3,500 people. It also had a religious aspect to it with the Republicans being mostly Catholic and the Unionists being largely Protestants.

Northern Ireland was formerly part of the Ulster province, which lies to the north of modern-day Ireland. Conflict between the Protestants and the Irish Catholics goes all the way back to 1609, when King James I started an official policy of migration wherein people from England and Scotland were encouraged to move to Ulster to work in his various plantations there. The religious war that was being waged in much of Europe at the time, between the Protestants and the Catholics, made its presence felt in Ulster as well. However, a much stronger resistance was brewing. Ireland at the time was under the rule of England. The growing resistance against the colonial English rule, especially after the Potato Famine of 1845 where over 1 million Irish people died due to disease and starvation, cemented these sectarian and religious differences. Finally, in 1916, in the middle of the First World War, during Easter week, Ireland rose up in arms against colonial rule under the leadership of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After a bloody war, it was able to gain independence from England with the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921.

However, Ireland was split into two territories. As there was a protestant majority in Ulster, out of the 32 counties in Ireland, six remained with the U.K, forming the region of Northern Ireland.

What led to the Good Friday agreement?

Peace did not come easy in Northern Ireland. The years that followed were rife with discrimination and instances of sectarian violence. The Irish Republicans being the minority were often victims of discrimination when it came to housing and public service jobs. Moreover, there have also been claims that elections were heavily skewed towards the Unionists due to gerrymandering practices. In the late 1960s, various protests against the Northern Ireland government descended into violence with the IRA and the Unionist paramilitary forces taking up arms.

A civil war had officially started and the British Army was deployed to maintain peace. The Army was often accused of colluding with the Unionists against the Republicans. Walls were built between communities to segregate them, curfews were implemented and dissidents were being arrested without trial. However, violence continued and in 1972, in an incident known as Bloody Sunday, the British Army shot and killed at least 13 unarmed civilians during a protest march in the Bogside area of Derry. In its aftermath, the war spread to the mainland of the U.K. and Ireland, with attacks and bombings orchestrated in London and Dublin.

In the backdrop of the ever-increasing tit-for-tat violence between the IRA and the Unionists, in the 1980s, IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein started taking a more active role in the political landscape of Northern Ireland. It contested elections and played a part in governance. Peace talks were also being negotiated with the U.S. acting as a mediator.

The 1990s brought about a significant shift in the war. The public was weary of violence and wanted peace. Both parties agreed to a ceasefire and peace talks were in full swing. While decommissioning of arms was heavily pushed by the U.K., both the IRA and the Unionists at the time refused to give up their arms entirely. Therefore, talks took the ‘twin approach’ wherein peace and decommissioning was to happen in parallel as a treaty was being reached.

Finally, on April 10, 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was signed in Belfast bringing to an end the 30-year-old civil war in Northern Ireland.

What is the Good Friday Agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement is a unique peace treaty in that it conceded to most of the demands from both sides of the conflict. The treaty had three main aspects — that the Northern Ireland government would be formed on the sovereign wishes of both Republicans and the Unionists and that they would share governance equally; that the people of Northern Ireland could seek reunification with Ireland any time subject to a referendum; and that the citizens of Northern Ireland can seek Irish or British nationality or both. It also abolished border checks and encouraged the freedom of movement of people across the U.K. and Ireland.

However, tensions of the conflict still linger in the region. The power sharing system has not been smooth. Stormont has fallen multiple times before the completion of a term. The Assembly was suspended in 2000, in 2001, from 2002-2007 when Unionists withdrew from the executive and from 2017-2020. In February 2022, the government again collapsed as Unionists withdrew over border controls between the U.K. and Northern Ireland.

What next?

The significance of a Nationalist First Minister cannot be understated. Ms. O’Neill said as much when she remarked that “we are in a decade of opportunity” indicating the possibility of a referendum on the reunification of the region with Ireland in the next 10 years.

However, in a paper released by the U.K. government, it said that it “sees no realistic prospect of a border poll leading to a united Ireland,” citing recent polling. In a similar vein, Irish premier Leo Varadkar, whose government in principle supports a united Ireland, also said the question of reunification was “not for today.”

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UK government accused of frightening immigrants into leaving

EU citizens in the UK are “expected to beg, bend their knee and show remorse for not knowing” about post-Brexit visa changes, Euronews was told.


Before Brexit became official on 31 January 2020, life for EU citizens living in the UK was fairly straightforward.

But everything changed after that date. 

Many people who had lived in the UK for more than 10 years and had been granted permanent residency cards were told they had no right to live there any more. 

That’s because the Home Office explained they hadn’t applied to the EU Settlement Scheme by the 30 June 2021 deadline.

Still, a large number of EU citizens say they simply weren’t aware of the change.

Following outrage from these people – and others representing them – the government said in January they may now be allowed to stay in the UK.

Changes aren’t enough

The3million is a grassroots organisation established in the UK to represent EU citizens living in the country after the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The movement told Euronews the government U-turn will likely not go far enough.

Under the government changes, those who settled in the UK before Brexit and were previously granted permanent residence cards will now be able to make a late application to the EU Settlement Scheme – yet only in some circumstances.

As Andreea Dumitrache, Communications Manager at the3million explained: “These are still very limited in scope, and a majority of late applicants are still expected to be confronted with huge barriers to get their application to be considered.”

Some 50 organisations asked the government for changes through a letter coordinated by the3million – but they think it’s too little, too late.

“We’re disappointed the Home Office still does not accept that having an EEA permanent residence card in itself is sufficient evidence for reasonable grounds for applying late,” Dumitrache told Euronews.

“People are also expected to beg, bend their knee and show remorse for not knowing. We are concerned this will lead to only people with access to legal advice to be able to get their application through,” she added.

Massimo and Dee, an Italian couple who moved to Belfast in January 2023 were victims of this apparent lack of transparency from the government since Brexit came into force.

They ran a small food outlet providing traditional Italian pizza and street food, serving the local community, but soon saw both their business account and Massimo’s current account blocked by their bank.

The restaurant owners told Euronews: “We only knew as we were trying to process a supplier payment and it didn’t go through. We contacted the bank but they wouldn’t tell us anything or advise how this could be resolved.”

Dee explained they felt “devastated, humiliated and concerned.”

Massimo in particular, “felt let down by the country he had lived in for over 20 years, where he had provided employment for many people over the years, paid his taxes and given back to the local community. We didn’t know which way to turn and received incorrect advice from several sources.”


Before discovering the3million, Dee and Massimo contacted the Home Office directly.

“They wouldn’t advise on what course of action we should take. We researched on the government websites but there was no clear guidance for people in Massimo’s situation who already held a residency card,” Dee said.

It was only after paying for an immigration lawyer that they were given any clarity and idea about what to do next.

Dee still holds a lot of anger towards the government. 

“They should have specifically mentioned that even those with a permanent residency card (with no expiration date) still needed to apply. In fact, they should have contacted holders of the card and advised them, as was the case in other countries with similar permits, such as Denmark.” 


After a great deal of stress, Dee managed to get her business account reinstated after removing her husband as a director and completing a change of mandate details.

She says it took the bank a month to sort out and now their business is “ruined” and they “won’t be in a position to reopen it.”

This kind of story is all too familiar for Andreea Dumitrache.

“It is the most vulnerable who will suffer,” she told Euronews, “vulnerable EU citizens, those living in poverty, ethnic minorities, those who are not digitally literate, can still be refused, despite living in this country for years, if they do not tick all the additional boxes.”

She is concerned that people who were aware of the need to reapply may still be in danger of losing their right to stay in the UK.


“Others will have been told by the Home Office to reapply following a previous incorrect refusal and will now be considered not to have a reasonable ground for a late application,” she said.

According to the3million, it appears as if the Home Office is working off the assumption that people will encounter a “trigger event” and find out they need to apply at an already difficult time.

“People can live in the UK for years without a trigger event making them aware they need to secure status. This was made exceedingly clear by the Windrush scandal, in which many people discovered their lack of proof of status many years after changes in policy and legislation,” Dumitrache explained.

The Home Office say they have been clear with their new policy. 

“Permanent residence documents issued under the EEA Regulations confirmed a person’s status in the UK under EU free movement rules.” they said. “We have long been clear that such documentation ceased to be valid at the end of the grace period on 30 June 2021.”


“More than two years have passed since the deadline for applying to the scheme, which was widely publicised. In line with our Citizens’ Rights Agreements commitments, we continue to accept and consider late applications from those with reasonable grounds for their delay in applying.”

Dumitrache refutes this claim, though.

“Politicians promised EU citizens would retain their rights after Brexit. This government needs to take responsibility and change this culture of disbelief in the Home Office. The most vulnerable cannot be those who suffer the burden and have their lives destroyed,” she said.

Under the terms of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the UK must guarantee the rights of EU citizens living legally in the country before leaving the bloc. In turn, EU countries must do the same for British citizens living there.

After the scheme was closed in June 2021, the government promised they would take late applications if there were “reasonable grounds”.


In August last year, however, Rishi Sunak’s lawmakers changed the rules so a lack of awareness of the EU settlement scheme was no longer a justification for not applying.

The3million has now called on the government to take further action, saying their decisions are simply not in the spirit or substance of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The organisation says they are not doing enough to ensure that the “reasonable grounds” promise is being upheld and are accusing them of effectively removing safeguards previously put in place for EU citizens to have full access to their rights.

While Dee and Massimo are on the way to getting back on their feet – although they are not sure they will stay in the country after the way they have been treated by the government and their bank – thousands of other EU citizens in the UK are just at the beginning of their possibly treacherous journeys.

“I struggle to think of any benefits (of Brexit),” Dee told Euronews.


“We have always striven to source foods locally and support the UK economy, customers want authentic Italian food which can only be achieved by including Italian ingredients. Brexit drove up the prices of food to such an extent that many family run businesses were forced to close their doors,” she said.

Dee, and many others, fear for the future of EU citizens’ role in the UK if the government does not make yet another U-turn.

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Happy Rishiversary! Highs and lows of Rishi Sunak’s first year in power

LONDON — Happy anniversary to one of the UK’s most talked-about couples: No. 10 Downing Street and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

It’s been a tumultuous love affair, with a will-they-won’t-they start — and enough bumps in the road to keep a local pothole repair team busy.

As Sunak tries to restore the reputation of his governing Tories — still languishing in the polls ahead of an expected election next year — POLITICO takes a trip down memory lane with a month-by-month rundown of some of the key highlights. Buckle up!

October 2022

It finally happened. After one failed leadership run — in which he lost to Liz Truss and, in a way, to a lettuce — Sunak was elected the new leader of the Conservatives on October 24, 2022.

A day later he became prime minister, and vowed his government would be marked by “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.” That was in no way a massive sub-tweet of Boris Johnson.

Sunak’s first port of call was to pick his cabinet. He took a slow and steady approach, which No. 10 insisted was “not indecisiveness” — even as some MPs, accustomed to the adrenalin of the Truss and Johnson administrations, found the wait tedious. Sunak’s first few days seemed to mark him out as a PM in control.

Success rating: 9/10. Congrats, Rishi!

November 2022 

November saw a scrap about the COP climate summit. Having initially said he wouldn’t attend the COP27 bash, Sunak caved and traveled to Egypt for the conference on November 7, insisting he absolutely loved the planet.

Later in the month, Sunak had the fun task of creating a new government budget with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, seeking to right the economic ship after the drama of Truss’ brief spell in office.

The cheery document, billed in some quarters as Austerity 2.0 but actually delaying a lot of pain until after the next general election, unveiled a £55 billion package of tax increases and spending cuts, an attempt to ensure that Britain’s economic downturn was “shallower, and hurts people less,” according to Hunt. Something for the bumper sticker!

Its key measures indeed survived contact with the House of Commons and, crucially, didn’t spook the markets.

Success rating: 7/10. COP kerfuffle notwithstanding, Sunak and Hunt could breathe a sigh of relief for a whole eight seconds.

December 2022

Calling it a “winter of discontent” would be lazy plagiarism. So let’s go with “winter of discontent 2.0.”

A whopping 843,000 working days were lost in December to strikes, according to Britain’s statistics authority — the highest since those revolutionary days of November 2011.

With nurses, train drivers, and postal workers all downing tools (or mail?) throughout December, Sunak had a huge problem on his hands, and it didn’t get sorted until some time later. Despite the British love of moaning about train delays, the public largely supported the striking workers — especially the nurses.

Success rating: 3/10. ‘Tis the season of goodwill.

January 2023 

It was a month of ups and downs for Sunak, who gave some … mixed messages on following the rules.

Sunak swiftly fired his embattled Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi after an independent probe found that Zahawi had not been sufficiently transparent about his private dealings with Britain’s tax authorities.

In a letter to Zahawi confirming his sacking, Sunak reminded us all he had vowed to put “integrity, professionalism, and accountability at every level” of his administration.

This is the same dude who started the month by … getting fined by police for not wearing a seatbelt.

Success rating: 5/10. Big boys wear their seatbelts. 

February 2023 

Sunak seemed strapped in this month, and it ended up being a pretty good one for the prime minister, who finally managed to reach a deal with the EU over contentious post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland.

Sounding like a proud father at a press conference in Windsor, Sunak said Britain and the EU “may have had our differences in the past, but we are allies, trading partners and friends,” and hailed “a new chapter in our relationship.” A promised rebellion by allies of Sunak’s old nemesis Boris Johnson later came to nothing, which definitely didn’t provide Sunak with a good old chuckle.

Success rating: 10/10. Sunak managed the previously unthinkable: moving post-Brexit policy forward without loads of kicking and screaming from the Conservative Party. Plenty of time for that later!

March 2023 

March saw the U.K. build on its much-heralded AUKUS pact with Australia and the U.S., with Sunak joining President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at a submarine base in California to hail a new defense mega-deal between the three nations. It marked another win for Sunak’s plan to repair Britain’s battered image abroad and create jobs along the way.

Closer to home, however, the PM had some proper first-world problems brewing.

As voters grappled with ever-rising energy costs, the Guardian revealed that the mega-rich leader’s swimming pool in his Yorkshire home used so much energy that the local electricity grid had to be upgraded.

Such everyman woes provided a great backdrop for another government budget. Chancellor Hunt had them cheering from the rafters across the U.K. as he declared that the country would duck a technical recession this year.

Plans to help with the eye-watering cost of childcare and address Britain’s sluggish economic growth also featured prominently in another fiscal statement that may not have shifted many votes, but came off without major drama.

Success rating: Big deal and a big budget. Rishi, go have a swim to cool off. 7/10.

April 2023 

April was — whisper it – a pretty quiet month, no small feat in British politics.

There was the small matter of an investigation being launched into a potential breach of the MP code of conduct by Sunak. It would be a whole four months, however, before that probe found he had indeed broken the rules, but only as a result of “confusion.” We’ve all been there.

Success rating: 5/10. A holding-pattern month.

May 2023

In May, Rishi faced his first big electoral test as prime minister: local elections. He didn’t do well, with the Conservatives losing over 1,000 seats, and both Labour and the Liberal Democrats making big gains.

Success rating: 2/10. Blame the voters!

June 2023

Still, nothing proves you’re confronting your problems at home like … heading to the other side of the Atlantic for a big visit to America. Sunak got his global mojo back on a trip that saw an unlikely bromance blossom between Sunak and Biden.

Biden pronounced the special relationship “in real good shape” — and even got Sunak’s name right this time (if not his job title.)

The rest of Sunak’s month was dominated by an angry row with Boris Johnson, who quit in a huff alongside a few allies after a damning report on his conduct in the Partygate affair. The row revealed how few acolytes Johnson still had in the parliament, and arguably strengthened Sunak’s position as the only game in town.

Success rating: 9/10. If it doesn’t work out here, Sunak could always make it big stateside.

July 2023

You can always count on a by-election or two to spice things up, and these were a mixed bag for Sunak. The prime minister’s Tories got a thumping in fights for the parliamentary seats of Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome.

There was one glimmer of hope, however: A narrow and unexpected win in Uxbridge, Johnson’s now-vacant seat, showed Team Sunak that targeted campaigning against environmental policies seen by some as overbearing could pay off.

Also in June, Sunak made a bold pay offer to striking public sector workers, and helped ease industrial tensions.

Success rating: 6/10. Few expected the Uxbridge result, even if Sunak’s fortunes elsewhere looked dicey.

August 2023

August saw grim headlines on what the government had billed as “small boats week” — a chance to show off all the hard work Sunak’s government was doing to stop asylum seekers crossing the English Channel in unsafe vessels.

As the week unfolded, disaster struck one element of the government’s tough asylum policy. A plan to move migrants onto the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge instead of putting them up in expensive hotel accommodation was derailed by concerns about legionella bacteria in the water supply. It was a PR headache for a government that hardly needed one.

On the brighter side, Sunak carried out a smooth and limited government reshuffle without anybody calling him mean names.

Success rating: 4/10. Nobody had “legionella” on the comms grid.

September 2023 

Mr. Brexit Fix-it returned in September as a deal struck by Sunak ensured the U.K. successfully rejoined the EU’s Horizon multibillion-euro science funding scheme. It was another piece of unfinished Brexit business resolved, to the delight of top scientists and other massive nerds.

Sunak also seemed to land on a clear domestic dividing line in September. In a hastily-arranged Downing Street speech after his plans leaked, Sunak took a big red pen to parts of the government’s climate agenda, announcing a slowing of several key U.K. green policies.

A fierce backlash ensued from business groups, climate activists and some members of Sunak’s own Conservative Party.

But the PM’s supporters saw it as the first time Sunak had drawn bold lines in the sand ahead of the election, gambling that tapping into anxiety among motorists could see the Uxbridge trick repeated.

Success rating: 5/10. Nice Horizon deal, shame about the planet!

October 2023

The Conservative Party conference was dominated by … Liz Truss and trains.

Yep, the star of last year’s show made a triumphant comeback on the conference fringes, where she was greeted like a returning hero and urged Sunak to push for economic growth. Truss — plus Brexiteer-in-chief Nigel Farage, who swanned around the place — showed just how fractious the Tories remain, with plenty of Conservative leadership wannabes flaunting their wares.

The conference meanwhile saw endless speculation about whether Sunak would cancel a key part of a major high-speed rail link, an announcement he saved for his big speech at the close, a treat to the North of England, which famously hates useful transport links.

October would get grimmer still for Sunak, as two more by-election defeats suggested Labour really is on the comeback trail. There’s always November!

Success rating: 4/10. A month of Labour gains, trains and Nigel-mobiles.

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Seven years on: what do young Brits think of Brexit vote?

Four Brits who were aged 14-19 when the Brexit referendum took place in 2016 speak to Euronews about how Brexit has changed their lives. They are now aged 21-26.

Liv’s story

It’s 23 June 2016 and Liv Stobart is 15 years old. She has just finished her summer exams but is awaiting a much bigger result.

As her sister scuttles into her room crying, her heart sinks. 52% out, 48% in. The UK has voted to leave the European Union.

A moment which Liv has never forgotten. 

“I felt shocked and disheartened. I had no say in my future. It was a bewildering day. I still feel angry but I don’t think holding another referendum is the answer because you have to respect the will of the majority. However, I would like to think there will be more options one day. Why not European visas for under-35s for instance?”

Liv grew up in Scotland, where 62% of people voted to remain. 

Since Brexit, she has thought a lot about the merits of Scottish independence. “I am more in favour of independence now – with the prospect of rejoining the EU in mind – than before. 

“But I also look at the mess Brexit has caused after 70 years of partnership and think what havoc independence would wreak given Scotland’s 400 year partnership with the UK!”

Seven years on, Liv is still vocal about Brexit. “I had a big debate with my boss a few months ago. He voted Leave and has two young teenagers. I know we’ve led different lives, but I turned to him and was like don’t you realise that they may want to move to Europe one day?”

But for Liv – unlike many others – there is a way out. She has French relatives and is currently applying for a passport. “I am so lucky to not be blocked like so many other young people. As soon as I get my French passport I am moving!”

Tom’s story

Tom Portsmouth recalls finishing up a bike race on Belgium cobbles when the referendum results were announced. 

“I was only 14 years old but I was already working towards my dream of becoming a professional cyclist. I had no idea what was coming for me.” 

Moving to Europe for bike racing was formerly a well-trodden route for British cyclists looking to make it as professionals. But since Brexit, cyclists must now sign a lucrative contract with a team in order to get a residency visa. A tall order for young athletes starting out their careers. 

“My non-cyclist friends often tell me to stop talking about Brexit – but I can’t. It affects my career, dreams and life every single day.”

European legislation stipulates that Brits can only spend 90 days at a time in Europe on a tourist visa. This means that Tom spends much of his time ferrying back and forth for specific events. 

“I can’t race for six months of the racing season calendar. People don’t understand the financial, physical and emotional cost of it all.”

“I worry that teams will stop taking on young Brits – and instead take European riders – because of the administrative pain involved.” Tom currently races for Belgian team Bingoal Wallonie Bruxelles Continental Development Team.

After more than three years of negotiations, Britain formally exited the European Union on 20 January 2021. For a window of time, Brits were still able move to Europe and apply for a form of residency – but Tom was not able to do this due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I couldn’t go out and settle in Europe as a pre-resident because the pandemic kicked off and it was impossible to travel. That was another opportunity missed. But that won’t stop me for chasing my dreams for now.”

Zak’s story

“I was in my last year of school when Brexit happened and I voted to leave the European Union”, says Zak Butler down the crackly line on his drive to work as a primary school teacher.

“I remember being so happy with the result. When you vote on something and it goes through you get an initial sense of shared pride and satisfaction with all the people.” 

Many of Zak’s friends and family voted Leave – as did the majority of his Conservative constituency which is located near Portsmouth.

Seven years on, Zak wonders whether he would make the same decision today. According to a May 2023 YouGov poll, two-thirds of Leave voters believe Brexit has been more of a failure than a success.

“I was young and not very knowledgeable about politics. Brexit was not planned for – and one of the reasons for this was that the Leave campaign wasn’t totally truthful in its promises.”

“I care a lot about the NHS (Britain’s National Health Service) but promises of providing it with more funding were false. I was disappointed.” 

The Conservative government pledged to fund the NHS with an extra £350 million per week post-Brexit – but this did not materialise.

Over the years, debating Brexit has got Zak into some heated discussions. “Some people blame the referendum result on my individual vote because the margin was so tight. Younger friends who weren’t able to vote also get upset. Usually if I am going out with a new group of people I tend to try and find out their opinions beforehand to avoid things getting too heated.’

Despite his doubts, Zak still believes Brexit could bring some positive changes. 

“I don’t like to be proven wrong”, he says with a giggle. “I think the fact that the UK was able to get COVID-19 vaccines quicker than the rest of the EU is one of the big benefits I’ve seen.”

“I would love to work in an international school in Europe but that opportunity is probably gone. However, I can still look at working in Canada, New Zealand, Australia instead.”

For Zak, only time will tell what Brexit beholds. “You’ll have to interview me again in 15 years!”, his last words before he hangs up.

Hugo’s story

Hugo was still at school when the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016. He recalls his upset when the results came in “I felt saddened because I had absolutely no control over the decision.”

A passionate musician and trumpeter, Hugo went on to study jazz music at a British university. “When I finished my degree I didn’t have a specific plan but I had been idealizing moving to Europe for a while.”

He took the leap last September, moving to Barcelona for a two-year masters in modern music and jazz. However, once the joy of being admitted to a prestigious music conservatoire in Barcelona faded, the administrative nightmare began.

“I had to get a lawyer to help me compile documents and get them translated – before even moving abroad I had spent about £500 on all of this. Next year I will also have to get health insurance which is going to cost about £500.”

“Without paying for all of this, I wouldn’t have been able to go. Thankfully I’m on a student visa which also allows me to work.” 

For now, Hugo intends on making the most of his time in Spain – as he knows staying on once he is no longer a student will be difficult.

“I would like to get granted a freelancer visa to stay but realistically I will have to be a pretty famous musician by the time I leave to get that”, he says laughing.

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Paris joins celebration of Irish language’s renaissance as it marks 50 years in EU

The Irish Cultural Centre in Paris held a ‘Festival of Ideas’ event from June 15 to June 17 to join in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Ireland joining the European Union on January 1, 1973. The final day’s activities consisted of panel discussions and concerts celebrating all things Irish, from the Irish language to traditional music and cuisine.

Located in Paris’s 5th arrondissement (district), the Irish Cultural Centre (ICC) was inaugurated in 2002 on the site of a former Roman Catholic educational establishment for Irish students, with even a small chapel on the site. The names of the different dioceses throughout the island of Ireland can also still be seen when wandering through the open courtyard, which had rows of chairs set up in front of a stage for Sunday’s big events.

The courtyard of the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, France on June 17, 2023. © Mariamne Everett

From June 15 to June 17, the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris held its “inaugural” Festival of Ideas to celebrate Ireland’s relationship with the European Union (EU), “enable our public to engage with contemporary Ireland and to discover current preoccupations such as the renaissance of the Irish language” said Nora Hickey M’Sichili, the centre’s director.

Celebration of the Irish language

The Irish language featured heavily in many of the panel discussions.

The official language of Ireland along with English, the Irish language has undergone a long journey within the EU. When Ireland first joined the EU on January 1, 1973, Irish was listed as a treaty language. However, it eventually gained full official and working status on January 1, 2022, putting it on par with the EU’s 23 other official languages.

“Language is political and to be an Irish speaker is political,” said Irish language activist Aodán Mac Séafraidh, encapsulating the sentiment of many of the panellists discussing the politicisation of the Irish language on Sunday. Each speaker clearly had their own relationship with the Irish language and it “was interesting to hear all these varied ideas about the Irish language outside of an academic setting”, said Sean Ryan, a communications professor at ISCOM. This festival also “reflects this wider need of people to exchange ideas and be open to ones that differ from their own”, said Ryan.

Speaking at the Festival of Ideas event, (from left to right) Professor of Social and Political Philosophy Helder de Schutter, Irish language activist Aodán Mac Séafraidh and mediator William Howard at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, France on June 17, 2023.
Speaking at the Festival of Ideas event, (from left to right) Professor of Social and Political Philosophy Helder de Schutter, Irish language activist Aodán Mac Séafraidh and mediator William Howard at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, France on June 17, 2023. © Mariamne Everett

Mac Séafraidh is a member of the language and culture project Turas at the charity East Belfast Mission, located in a traditionally Protestant area of Belfast. Turas (which means journey or pilgrimage in both Irish and Scots Gaelic) is “an Irish language project which aims to connect people from Protestant communities to their own history with the Irish language”.

Increase in Irish spoken

For years, said Mac Séafraidh, the Irish language was associated with Irish republicanism, but it can now be used as “a vehicle for reconciliation” between the nationalist and unionist communities in Northern Ireland. Banned several times throughout the island of Ireland’s history, the UK introduced the Identity and Language Act on May 31, 2022, officially recognising the status of the Irish language for the first time in Northern Ireland.

In recent years, the Irish language has become more widely spoken across the island of Ireland. According to the latest census data from the Irish Central Statistics Office, the number of people who said that they could speak Irish increased by 6% between 2016 and 2022 to 1,873,997 (out of a population nearing 6 million). The latest census data from Northern Ireland shows that the number of people who said they could speak Irish rose from 10.65% in 2011 to 12.45% in 2021 (out of a population nearing 2 million), while the number of people who said they spoke it as their main language rose from 4,164 in 2011 to 6,000 in 2021.

The Irish language is not only experiencing “a renaissance” in Ireland, but also in France. In addition to holding events and concerts, the ICC offers Irish language courses from levels A1 to B2. During a concert by Irish singer Jack L on Sunday, William Howard, one of the event’s organisers, said that when he “started teaching Irish at the ICC in September 2021, it was quite easy for people to sign up to take classes. However, there are now waiting lists for all four classes. The students are mostly Irish and French, but we also get a small number from other nationalities”.

Members of An Gaeltacht-sur-Seine enjoy a picnic at lunchtime during the Festival of Ideas event at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, France on June 17, 2023.
Members of An Gaeltacht-sur-Seine enjoy a picnic at lunchtime during the Festival of Ideas event at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, France on June 17, 2023. © Mariamne Everett

At lunchtime, in between bites of sausage and colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage), Irish and French visitors alike had the opportunity to chat with members of An Gaeltacht-Sur-Seine, a group that meets once a month to speak Irish. The Festival of Ideas is “a nice occasion to meet new people and Irish people. It makes me proud to see French people wanting to learn about Irish culture”, said member Linda Moloney in French, respecting the group’s rule to only speak in Irish (and in French only when necessary) on Sunday.

Ireland and the EU

“I think it is a great idea to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ireland joining the European Union. Some people at the time were against joining the EU, they were even scared that Irish people would leave Ireland. But we’ve only had benefits from EU membership, from cultural to economic and being less dependent on the UK,” said An Gaeltacht-Sur-Seine member Philomena Begley. This sentiment was echoed in a panel discussion after lunch by Irish journalist and broadcaster Dearbhail McDonald, who said that “joining the EU lessened our dependence on the UK and also had economic and social benefits, especially for women and girls”. For instance, EU legislation led to the abolition of the Marriage Bar act, which had mandated that women resign from their jobs once they had gotten married, in 1973.

McDonald continues: “When we joined the European Union, we were a poor country that received over €40 billion in EU funds between 1973 and 2018.” Times have changed since then. Between 2018 and 2020, Ireland contributed €377 million in average net contributions. Despite being more prosperous now thanks to high-tech industry and global exports, the EU continues to greatly support Ireland. As recently as December 12, 2022, the European Commission approved a €1.2 billion scheme to support Irish companies affected by the war in Ukraine.

Priest Aidan Troy poses with attendees of the Festival of Ideas event at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, France on June 17, 2023.
Priest Aidan Troy poses with attendees of the Festival of Ideas event at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, France on June 17, 2023. © Mariamne Everett

The repercussions from Brexit and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in particular have seen Ireland grapple with its historic policy of neutrality now that it plays a bigger role in the EU, said McDonald. Soon after establishing itself as an independent republic in 1937, Ireland adopted a policy of neutrality when World War II began as a means of both countering the potential threat from Germany and resisting the historical imperial power of the UK. An Irish Times poll published on Saturday revealed that 61% of voters favoured the state’s current model of military neutrality, while only 26% said they would like to see it change. On the other hand, 55% of voters supported “significantly increasing Ireland’s military capacity” to defend airspace and territorial waters, while a majority of other voters said they were in favour of seeking help from other countries for the country’s defence needs. This poll came as the Irish government prepares to hold a series of public discussions about the future of Ireland’s neutrality and defence policy next week. McDonald finished the panel discussion by pondering Ireland’s future within the EU: “What does Ireland’s future in the EU look like, given that it values its neutrality but also wants to increase defence spending and show support for Ukraine [in its war against Russia]?”

Ireland also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement this year on April 10. This political deal was signed by the British and Irish governments, and Northern Ireland’s major political parties on April 10, 1998. It is credited with bringing an end to most of the violence associated with The Troubles, a sectarian conflict that began in the late 1960s between the overwhelmingly Protestant unionists, or loyalists, who wanted the region to remain part of the UK, and the overwhelmingly Catholic nationalists, or republicans, who wished to see Northern Ireland become part of the Republic of Ireland. The final panel on Sunday was a discussion between McDonald and Aidan Troy, a priest who received death threats in June 2001 while he was stationed in Ardoyne, Belfast for accompanying Catholic parents and children along loyalist parts of Belfast every day for three months. He said that he had accompanied these parents and children on their way to school in the hopes of protecting them, as they were being harassed by some loyalists living in the area. This incident clearly demonstrated that “The Troubles didn’t end with a stroke of a pen”, said McDonald. Troy said that the biggest lesson he learnt from his time in Belfast was that “there’s only two things you can do when you’re confronted with violence, you can either demonise your enemy or you can talk to them”.

A celebration of Irish culture

The final events of the day featured musical performances by indie-folk singer and songwriter Inni-K as well as Séamus and Caoimhe Uí Fhlatharta, a duo from Connemara (a region of Co. Galway, in western Ireland). Both acts performed traditional Irish music using traditional Irish instruments, including the bodhrán (a frame drum), blended with Sean-nós singing, which is generally unaccompanied traditional Irish singing performed in the Irish language. In between songs, Seamus Uí Fhlatharta told the crowd that he loved “having the opportunity to play around with a genre [Sean-nós singing] that is generally quite rigid. This is what this festival is all about”!

Connemara duo Séamus and Caoimhe Uí Fhlatharta peform traditional music and song in their mother tongue of Irish at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, France on June 17, 2023.
Connemara duo Séamus and Caoimhe Uí Fhlatharta peform traditional music and song in their mother tongue of Irish at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, France on June 17, 2023. © Mariamne Everett

Even at the end of a day where events had been interrupted by heavy rain more than once, which necessitated a quick change of venue, the festival’s attendees seemed happy overall and overjoyed at having spent the day listening to different panels and musicians, immersing themselves in Irish culture and meeting members of the Irish community. “In my opinion, there hasn’t been so much excitement, creativity and joy in being Irish since the 1996 ‘L’imaginaire Irlandais’ [Irish Imagination] festival in France! The unbridled joy we’ve felt over the past 3 days has brought me back to my youth in Ireland,” said Patricia Killeen, one of the leaders of Le Cercle Littéraire Irlandais (The Irish Literary Circle) and a freelance writer. “I hope that the ICC will be there, with its rich cultural agenda, and lovely ambiance of welcome and inclusion, for our children, and their children’s children, for the French to explore” and remain “a cultural and community haven for Irish people living in Paris,” concluded Killeen.

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Has the UK forgotten the lessons of the past in its latest trade deal?

By Dan Sutton, Postgraduate researcher, University of Manchester, and Christos Kourtelis, Lecturer, Loughborough University

The UK must not continue to reject the Single Market in favour of trade agreements such as that with the CPTPP, Dan Sutton and Christos Kourtelis write.

Britain’s ascension to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has been touted as its “biggest trade deal since Brexit”. 

Positively, the CPTPP undoubtedly presents potential benefits for the UK, receiving greater trade access to over 500 million people. 

The CPTPP is a trade agreement with 11 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore. 

However, joining the CPTPP will help the British GDP to grow by 0.08% — or only a 50th of the economic damage impounded by Brexit. 

Contrastingly, leaving the Single Market, the OBR predicts that the UK’s GDP will be 4% lesser over 15 years as a consequence, whilst others have predicted that GDP has already reduced by 5.5%.

The UK has a history of overestimating itself

This self-inflicted damage is reminiscent of British attitudes to Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. 

In 1955, Britain “missed the boat” at Messina, refusing to buy a ticket for proper involvement in European integration. 

Later, the UK understood the necessity not to be left behind whilst simultaneously opposing the Messina Six’s supranationalism, doubting its long-term potential.

Thus, it arrived at “Plan G” — an attempt to promote British interests in the run-up to the Messina Six establishing the customs union at the Treaty of Rome. 

Plan G was Britain’s attempt at reconfiguring trade relations with Europe, pursuing full access to Europe’s markets without accepting customs that would limit its ties with the Commonwealth.

Unsurprisingly, with Britain overestimating its prowess, Plan G was rejected by the EEC members. 

Plan G showed how unaccustomed Britain had become to informing integration positively — still emptily seeking what was best for the UK without considering the bigger picture.

Same thing happens with the Single Market

Following this, Britain applied for full membership twice in the 1960s, desiring to acquire the lost level of influence within Europe. 

The UK had to accept fully developed institutions, procedures, and policies upon joining the European Community in 1973. 

Overvaluing itself, Britain’s reluctance to integrate with Europe meant that it endured economic detriment. Between the ECC’s origination in 1958, and Britain joining the EC in 1973, its GDP per capita grew by 50%, whilst France, West Germany, and Italy saw 95% growth.

The patterns are self-evident. In the 1950s, the UK was fuelled by a misunderstanding of its place in Europe, failing to see past the lens of an empire that was in the midst of collapse. 

Aligned, Britain has made the same mistakes in leaving the Single Market, adopting a trade partnership that is shaped by others and raises significant political questions.

What about animal welfare and environmental standards?

Firstly, of the countries within the CPTPP, the EU has trade agreements with Canada, Chile, New Zealand, Mexico, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam whilst ongoing negotiations with Australia are reportedly close to being finalised. 

Seemingly, the trade deal the UK has reached is one with Brunei. However, there is obviously a difference in governance between the EU’s set of deals and the UK’s. And such governance of the CPTPP raises cause for concern.

One issue regards Britain’s approach to tariffs within the CPTPP. Within the CPTPP, members have upheld protectionist tariffs in particular areas, and the UK is entitled to do so. 

Imperatively, countries outside of the UK aren’t required to meet the UK’s standards, such as with animal welfare and environmental standards. 

Thus, if the UK removes tariffs on the CPTPP in these areas, there is a possibility that UK farmers might get priced out of business whilst the public could receive produce that doesn’t meet Britain’s animal welfare standards. 

The UK has seemingly accepted an agreement that presents the same criticisms received from the potential arrival of US-grown chicken.

A step symbolic of British Declinism

Moreover, the officials in London will be held to foreign lobbying pressures to remove or impact regulation that prevents profit. Thus, in the future, the UK may be politically pressured by objections against raising its standards.

Irrespectively, the UK has promised that whilst it is now possible to do so, it won’t compromise its standards, but immediately came under criticism as it announced the concession of tariffs on Malaysian palm oil, which has been blamed for deforestation.

Such issues are of further significance due to the CPTPP’s dispute mechanism. Giving written evidence, the BHR strongly criticised the CPTPPs ISDS. 

Through ISDS, corporations receive the ability to sue states if a policy threatens future profits or even if it is aimed at protecting human rights, minimum wages and the environment. Compared to the Single Market, this is a step symbolic of British Declinism.

Whilst joining the CPTPP raises specific issues, there is a similar limitation to arguments made around ascension blocking a return to the Single Market. 

In continuum with the comparison with the 20th century, when Britain did join the EC in 1973, it remained a member of the then-divergent EFTA, proving that realignment is possible.

Why keep repeating the mistakes of the past?

However, re-joining would potentially be prevented by the issue of harmonising the rules between the CPTPP and the EU. 

Currently, if there is a regulatory divergence between CPTPP membership and Single Market membership, and as the UK currently de facto aligns with the Single Market, there would then be a clash between the UK and CPTPP. 

A lack of this shows the strong level of consistency between the two trade areas. 

Thus, the issue of regulatory divergence is a future one. The ISDS could see that Britain’s desire to upkeep high food standards incurs opposition, whilst the UK could adopt a complex position where it conforms domestically to EU regulation, with different requirements for trade with CPTPP.

Overall, there remains one key point. The UK must not continue to reject the Single Market in favour of trade agreements such as that with the CPTPP. 

Ironically, if not re-joining the EU, the obvious solution to Britain’s current situation is re-joining the EFTA, the organisation it set up to counter the European customs union in the 1950s, now part of the Single Market. 

In the end, the UK must come to understand its past, not continue to repeat its mistakes.

Dan Sutton is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Manchester, and Dr Christos Kourtelis is a lecturer in European and International Politics at Loughborough University.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Could the Stormont Brake derail the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is set to vote against the UK government’s plan for post-Brexit trade agreements in Northern Ireland.

Its leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, announced on Monday that, following a meeting between party officials, the DUP will vote to reject the so-called ‘Stormont Brake’ aspect of the UK-EU agreed Windsor Framework.

An overhaul of the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, the Windsor Framework aims to address some of the concerns raised by the British unionists in Stormont (the Northern Ireland parliament) over trade borders and what it might mean for the future of Northern Ireland within the UK.

“[The Stormont Brake] does not deal with some of the fundamental problems at the heart of our current difficulties,” Donaldson said on Monday.

The UK’s opposition Labour Party has already said it plans to vote with the government – all but guaranteeing the motion will pass, regardless of the DUP’s disapproval.

But what is the Stormont Brake, what is the DUP hoping to achieve by rejecting it and what will this mean for the future of power-sharing in Northern Ireland?

What is the Windsor Framework, and why was it introduced?

Since the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, Northern Ireland – which shares the UK’s only land border with the EU – has occupied a complex regulatory grey area between UK and EU legislation. The Northern Ireland protocol and subsequent Windsor framework hoped to address it.

The Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed by former PM Boris Johnson, came into force in 2021, as an attempt to prevent hard trade borders on the island of Ireland. It moved regulatory and customs checks to the Irish Sea.

But it caused disagreements between London and Brussels and angered Northern Ireland unionists who opposed the idea of an effective border in the Irish Sea. Jeffrey Donaldson referred to the Protocol in 2021 as “the greatest ever threat to the economic integrity of the United Kingdom.”

Under the Protocol, Belfast was still subject to certain EU laws, without Northern Ireland representatives having any say in how they are made or implemented.

On 27 February, Rishi Sunak and the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, presented the Windsor Framework, hailed as the beginning of “a new chapter” in Westminster-Brussels relations.

Von der Leyen said the deal “respects and protects our respective markets and our respective legitimate interests. And most importantly, it protects the very hard-earned peace gains of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement for the people of Northern Ireland and across the island of Ireland.”

What is the Stormont Brake mechanism?

With the Windsor Framework’s Stormont Brake mechanism, the Stormont Assembly could formally reject new EU laws for goods.

Westminster says it gives an “unequivocal veto” on new EU rules applying to trade in Northern Ireland, should 30 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly from at least two parties raise objections.

“The Stormont Brake is a mechanism designed to try to give members of the Northern Ireland Assembly some kind of a say on new EU regulations,” explained Dr Jamie Pow, a Lecturer in Political Science at Queen’s University Belfast.

With 25 seats in parliament, the DUP would require the support of just five other politicians to trigger the brake. There are currently 12 more pro-British unionist lawmakers in Stormont.

Implementation of the rule would then be automatically suspended while the UK and Brussels discuss it.

Should the EU contest the triggering of the Brake, the matter will be referred to an independent arbitration panel, rather than the European Court of Justice.

Why is the DUP against the Stormont Brake?

In his statement, Jeffrey Donaldson said “It remains the case that the ‘brake’ is not designed for, and therefore cannot apply, to the EU law which is already in place and for which no consent has been given for its application.

“Whilst representing real progress, the ‘brake’ does not deal with the fundamental issue which is the imposition of EU law by the protocol,” he added.

“From the DUP’s point of view, it seems to be concerned that really it will still be up to the UK Government to decide whether to pursue the brake or not,” Dr Jamie Pow told Euronews.

“So in other words, the Stormont Brake would sound the alarm bells from 30 MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but it would still be for the UK Government to decide whether to go through with it,” he added.

New reports into the details of the mechanism reveal that, even if the unionists applied the brake, the UK and Brussels could decide that the law does not merit a UK government veto.

If the UK and EU agreed to proceed with the rollout of the EU law, this would be subject to a formal vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

But any unionist objections can still be overruled by the UK government, citing “exceptional circumstances” or by claiming the EU law “would not create a new regulatory border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

“It’s interesting because in a nutshell, what you could characterise the DUP’s concerns as being are in many ways due to a lack of trust between it and the UK government,” Pow revealed.

“I mean, obviously there’s the bigger UK-EU picture, but really so many of the stumbling blocks have been the DUP’s lack of trust in the UK government and it is things that the UK government could probably do unilaterally that could actually gain some trust.”

Why is DUP support important?

With only eight votes in a 650-seat House of Commons, the DUP won’t be able to prevent the law from being enacted – even though its opposition could encourage hard-line Brexiteer Conservative MPs to vote against the government.

In protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol, the DUP has refused to take part in the country’s power-sharing institutions for the last 10 months, arguing that its concerns have still not been addressed.

Irish nationalist party Sinn Féin secured a historic victory in elections in May 2022, becoming the biggest party for the first time in Northern Ireland’s history.  

Sinn Féin’s Vice President, Michelle O’Neill, has said the DUP’s refusal to revive power-sharing at Stormont amounts to “denying people the change they voted for.” She has urged the unionists to accept the Windsor Framework and “get Stormont moving”.

Jeffrey Donaldson has said his party is committed to reviving power-sharing but insists unionist demands must be met.

“At stake here is the future of devolved government in Northern Ireland,” Dr Pow told Euronews. “The DUP so far has boycotted the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, effectively leaving Northern Ireland without a devolved government for over a year now. So to be able to make progress on the protocol is linked to giving the DUP a good enough reason to go back into devolved government and get that back up and running.”

The unionists’ rejection of the Stormont Brake will all but rule out any hope that the Stormont assembly would be revived for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement on 10 April.

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Will UK, EU deepen ties after Northern Ireland breakthrough?

After years of vexed negotiations, few predicted a new Brexit deal on Northern Ireland. But not only did the February 27 agreement offer a genuine resolution of the thorny border problem – it also marked a big change in the ambience surrounding UK-EU relations. Some analysts say the war in Ukraine is a major factor in Brussels softening its stance, given the UK’s importance to European security, but they underscore that Britain will still be unable to enjoy the full benefits of EU membership outside the club.

Amid the smiles and fanfare at the Windsor Guildhall as the Northern Irish border deal was unveiled, EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen referred to PM Rishi Sunak as “dear Rishi”. Selling the deal in Northern Ireland, Sunak indicated a change in thinking from a glowing endorsement of a hard Brexit, instead hailing the British province’s place in the European single market as an “unbelievably special position”.

Sunak’s language mirrors a shift in British public attitudes towards Brexit over the past year and a half, with support for UK membership in the EU climbing to around 57 percent, according to a What UK Thinks polling aggregate.

The British economy is in a poor state post-Brexit. Both the IMF and OECD expect it to contract in 2023, as the G7’s worst-performing economy. Brexit is far from the only cause of this economic weakness; the UK has suffered from poor productivity growth since the 2008 financial crash for a complex array of reasons. Nevertheless, economists say Brexit is undermining the UK’s economic growth, with the Treasury’s non-partisan forecaster, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, expecting Brexit to leave the economy four percent smaller than it would have been if the UK had stayed in the EU.

>> Sunak’s ‘seismic’ deal resolves N. Ireland border problem – but DUP support remains elusive

There is a feeling “among a small but substantial minority of those who voted ‘Leave’ that it’s messed up the economy”, noted Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London.

As far as the political class goes, “even a fair number of Brexit-supporting Tories would like to see things put on a more amicable and hopefully more profitable footing”, Bale added. “Continued hostility, now we’ve left, benefits very few politicians, outside of the Brexit ultras on the Conservative backbenches.”

‘More pragmatism, less ideology’

Brussels bore this context in mind when reaching out ahead of signing the Windsor Framework, sensing this was the right moment to improve relations with the UK.

“It’s the EU that moved the most; they’ve accepted the UK’s concerns about trade flows between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and they did so for political reasons, at a time when you can see the under-performance of the British economy is only going to get worse,” explained Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels office.

“They gave Sunak a pretty good deal, and they didn’t have to do that. They could have played hardball.”

The changing of the guard at Downing Street made a colossal difference to what was possible – with the EU regarding Sunak very differently from the way it viewed a blustering Boris Johnson. Combined with the shift in British public opinion, the return of emollient, technocratic diplomacy in London laid the groundwork for deeper UK-EU ties.

The Windsor Framework “may open a new chapter in EU-UK relations, based more on pragmatism and less on Brexit ideology”, said Nicoletta Pirozzi, head of the European Union programme at the Italian Institute of International Affairs in Rome.

Ukraine ‘shifted the EU’s trajectory’

Even before Sunak’s Northern Ireland deal, the Conservative government showed a little more movement than pundits expected. Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss had a similarly belligerent diplomatic style to Johnson’s – refusing to say whether France was friend or foe, for example. Yet Truss signed up to French President Emmanuel Macron’s grand idea of a European Political Community, bringing together EU members and non-members alike to discuss Europe’s common priorities.

When Truss surprised observers by attending the European Political Community’s inaugural meeting in October, Europe’s united stance behind Ukraine was at the top of the agenda. Indeed, the Russo-Ukrainian War has made Britain a relevant geopolitical actor again after the turmoil of Brexit. Europe’s biggest defence spender and a global leader in intelligence, the UK is the second-largest weapons donor to Ukraine behind the US. London has developed a special relationship with Kyiv – as demonstrated by the talks on Ukraine manufacturing its own arms thanks to a licensing deal with British companies.

Defence and security issues are much more salient than they were during the first stage of Brexit wrangling from 2016-2019. Back then, it was common to hear pro-Brexit pundits in the UK talking up the chances of Eastern European countries like Poland helping Britain get a special trade deal, seeing as the UK was the main proponent of their accession to the EU and has long shared their hawkish stance towards Russia. But this was wishful thinking, as the EU 27 maintained a united front behind the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who was keen to make sure that Britain did not enjoy the benefits that come with being part of the club after summarily rejecting membership.

Yet now the war in Ukraine is likely to soften Brussels’ stance towards the UK even further – and Eastern European countries will cheer this process on, Kirkegaard predicted. “The EU is certain to accept Ukraine as a member state within the next 10 years – and that means the EU will almost certainly have a difficult border with a nuclear-armed adversary in the shape of Russia. The UK is a major military power, a nuclear power – and that really matters,” he said.

“Before the war, it didn’t matter very much, to be frank, but the war has really shifted the trajectory of the EU,” Kirkegaard continued. “Military and security issues are a much bigger deal – making the UK a lot more important to the bloc – and nowhere will this be felt more keenly than Poland, the Baltic states and Finland.

“I’m not so sure that even the French hard line on Brexit would have been sustained if the war had broken out in 2017 or 2018,” Kirkegaard added.

‘Full benefits for full members’

If both sides proceed with building closer economic relations, the most likely options are either the Norway model or the Switzerland model.

The Norwegian approach is membership in the single market without EU membership, which involves a lot of rule-taking without any real say in rule-making. This would be anathema to the anti-EU hardliners on the Tory backbenches, who heaped opprobrium on fellow Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood when he endorsed re-joining the single market last year, even if they are largely acquiescent about Sunak’s Northern Ireland deal. The Labour Party also rules out the Norway option.

By contrast, the Swiss option could give Britain the single market access its services-reliant economy needs without it having to adopt every single EU rule. Switzerland negotiates regulatory alignment with the single market on a sector-by-sector basis through an array of bilateral deals, many of which require renegotiation as the EU changes its rules.

Downing Street denied The Sunday Times’s report in November that it is looking at the Swiss model, amid backlash from the backbenches. Labour leader Keir Starmer said the same month he is not considering the Swiss option.

Enjoying a whopping poll lead, Labour are the overwhelming favourites to win the next general elections, due before the end of 2024 – although historically polls at this stage in the electoral cycle have tended to exaggerate Labour’s chances of taking power.

Starmer’s party wants to keep Brexit off the agenda and focus on the UK’s cost-of-living crisis and flagging public services, since Leave-voting Labour supporters switched to the Tories en masse to give Johnson his landslide in 2019. Hence Labour’s oft-repeated, opaque mantra about “making Brexit work”.

“Labour’s policy is basically to find ways of reducing trade friction without getting too close to the single market,” said John Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde. This position has fuelled speculation that Labour wants to “cherry-pick” EU rules to follow for market access à la Switzerland, Curtice observed.

But regardless of who wins the 2024 elections, there will be limits to the EU’s new conciliatory approach. Despite its importance as a defence and security heavyweight while war rages in Europe, the EU will not accept the UK trying to undercut the single market, noted Juha Jokela, director of the European Union research programme at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki.

The prospects for a better economic deal depend on how much the UK diverges from the EU regulation, Jokela said. If the UK seeks a “competitive advantage by lowering standards in areas such as workers’ rights and environmental protection”, for instance, the two sides’ relations could worsen again.

There will be a “limit” to the EU’s ties with Britain as long as it remains outside the bloc, Jokela concluded. “Even if the UK is a former member state, the EU is likely to continue to highlight that the full benefits of European integration belong to full members of the Union; while they enjoy all the rights of membership, they also have to fulfil the obligations of membership.”

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Northern Ireland confronts compromise in post-Brexit deal

Britain and the European Union have reached a new agreement on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland, raising hopes that more than six years of wrangling over the U.K.’s departure from the bloc may finally come to an end.

The deal, announced Monday by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, is designed to replace existing rules that have been criticised for effectively creating a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, weakening the region’s links to Britain.

What was the deal about?

The government says the new arrangements, known as the Windsor Framework, will eliminate the need for customs checks on most goods shipped to Northern Ireland from other parts of the U.K., cutting costs and reducing red tape.

The deal also reduces the role of EU law and the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, a key demand of Brexit supporters who want to shake off the remnants of the bloc’s influence.

Why are we still talking about this?

Northern Ireland has a unique position in the Brexit negotiations because it is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with the European Union. That border, which separates Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland to the south and east, is also particularly sensitive because of the history of sectarian violence on the island of Ireland.

The 1998 Good Friday agreement that largely ended three decades of violence was underpinned by the fact that both Northern Ireland and the Republic were members of the EU.

That made it possible to remove border checkpoints that had been a source of tension and allow trade to flow freely, spurring economic development and creating jobs on both sides of the frontier.

When Britain left the bloc, negotiators for both sides pledged to keep the border open, even as the rules on everything from food and agriculture to steel and medicines began to diverge.

That forced them to come up with a new way to protect their internal markets from products that didn’t comply with their laws.

Why didn’t Brexit settle these issues?

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to resolve these questions with the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, which required customs checks on some goods shipped from other parts of the U.K. as they entered Northern Ireland.

But Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, who want to maintain the region’s historic links to Great Britain, demanded that the protocol be scrapped because they said it treated the region differently from other parts of the country and weakened its status as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

Unionists and staunch Brexiteers also opposed the protocol because it meant that many EU rules still governed trade in Northern Ireland and because the European Court of Justice was empowered to settle disputes about these rules. That, they said, meant the people of Northern Ireland were subject to laws they had no role in making, creating a “democratic deficit.”

The Democratic Unionist Party, the largest unionist party, resigned from Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government early last year to put pressure on officials in London to renegotiate the protocol. Northern Ireland hasn’t had an effective government since then.

How have these issues been resolved?

Mr. Sunak’s deal scraps most checks on goods shipped to Northern Ireland from other parts of the U.K.

Products destined for use in Northern Ireland will now travel through a “green lane” without any checks other than those normally required for internal shipments. While those destined for the Republic of Ireland will still go through a “red lane,” both sides have agreed to track those goods using technology and by sharing data from commercial declarations, reducing the need for border inspections.

Border checks will now focus on “risk-based and intelligence-led operations targeting criminality and smuggling,” the U.K. government says.

Searching for an understandable example, Mr. Sunak repeatedly mentioned that sausages would no longer have checks and could move more swiftly across the Irish Sea — a move certain to be met with satisfaction in Belfast.

The absence of the humble banger on Northern Irish grocery store shelves had become a symbol of post-Brexit turmoil.

As a result of the deal, some 1,700 pages of EU law will no longer apply in Northern Ireland.

But about 3% of EU laws will still be applicable in the region, meaning there is a possibility that the European Court of Justice could still be involved in a small number of disputes.

The deal also seeks to protect the democratic rights of Northern Ireland by giving the regional assembly the power to object to any new EU rules that may apply in its territory.

If this “Stormont Brake” is triggered by 30% of the members of the regional assembly from two or more parties, the rule in question would be suspended unless both the U.K. and EU agreed to override those objections.

Have all these issues been resolved?

The biggest question remaining is whether the DUP will support the deal.

While Mr. Sunak received broad support from the House of Commons on Monday, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said his party will take time to “study the detail” of the agreement before deciding on its position.

“There’s only one boulder left in the road, and that is the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland,” said Jonathan Tonge, a professor of politics at the University of Liverpool. “They could turn a victory into defeat if they say no to this deal.”

Will Northern Ireland now get a government?

Not immediately.

Mr. Sunak stressed that this agreement is only about the trading arrangements for Northern Ireland, though he hopes it will lay the groundwork for the DUP and other parties to return to government.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement seeks to promote peace in Northern Ireland by requiring unionist and nationalist politicians to share power in the regional government.

“I will respect the fact that the local parties need time and space to study the details,” Mr. Sunak wrote Tuesday in the Belfast Newsletter.

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As UK supermarkets ration fruits and vegetables, many blame Brexit for shortages

Due to a shortage of certain fruits and vegetables, British supermarkets have been forced to ration their supplies. This situation is likely to continue for some time, leading to fears of price hikes. But how did the UK get to this point? While most officials say that bad weather and rising energy prices are to blame, some observers are pointing the finger at Brexit.

As the UK experiences shortages of some fruits and vegetables, several supermarket chains have been forced to limit the number of products each of their customers can purchase. Some are only allowing three tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers per person. 

The British government has blamed the shortfalls on extreme weather conditions in Spain and North Africa – where most of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the UK this time of year are sourced – which have affected harvests.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), the trade association representing UK retailers, says the shortages are expected to last for “a few weeks” until the UK growing season begins in the spring, giving shops alternative sources of supply. 

Environment Minister Therese Coffey caused an uproar on Thursday by suggesting that Britons should eat fewer tomatoes and more turnips, fueling the debate over the reasons for the scarcity. While many say that bad weather conditions and rising energy prices are to blame, others are pointing the finger at the UK government and Brexit.  

Extreme weather conditions 

Exceptionally cold weather in Spain, flooding in Morocco and storms that have severely disrupted the transport of goods are just some of the reasons why the UK is experiencing a fruit and vegetable shortage, according to the BRC. During the winter months, the UK imports around 95% of its tomatoes and 90% of its lettuce from Spain and North Africa.   

However, the UK has experienced extreme weather conditions as well. Heatwaves earlier this year led to the fourth-hottest summer on record, with temperatures exceeding 40°C for the first time. In December, the country was hit by a series of severe and prolonged frosts. 

This makes it difficult for the UK to rely on local producers, or even those in the Netherlands, another of its major food trading partners. Due to rising electricity prices, farmers in both countries have been forced to use their greenhouses less and concentrate their efforts on winter crops. 

Energy crisis 

In the wake of the war in Ukraine, the Netherlands was hit hard by the energy crisis. “Energy was 200% more expensive in September than in the same month last year” compared with 151% in August, Statistics Netherlands announced in October.  

The Netherlands, which is the fifth-largest economy in the European Union (EU), is trying to end its dependence on Russian gas and now has one of the highest inflation rates in Europe, at one point surpassing 17%. 

Tim O’Malley, chief executive of Nationwide Produce, one of the UK’s largest fresh food producers, told the BBC last week that shortages could lead to price increases in the coming weeks. 

UK retailers will have to find alternative sources of supply and rely on locally produced crops. The National Farmers Union, the country’s main farming union, has asked the government for a support plan geared to producers. GOV.UK announced last week that more than £168 million, or €190 million, has already been paid to British farmers.

Rachael Flaszczak, who owns a café near Manchester, told the BBC she was struggling to get eggs, tomatoes, spinach and rocket. “We go to the supermarket to try and get our stock for the next day and we just see empty, overturned crates,” she said, going so far as to suggest a completely different cause. “There’s no shortage over there [in the EU], so it has to be something to do with Brexit.”  

Brexit to blame? 

According to the farmers’ union, which says that Brexit rules are one of the reasons why the UK is currently experiencing this situation, shortages of certain fruits and vegetables could be just the “tip of the iceberg”. 

The Guardian cited the union’s vice president, Tom Bradshaw, as saying that the shortage was probably an indirect consequence of the UK’s decision to leave the EU

“It’s really interesting that before Brexit we didn’t used to source anything, or very little, from Morocco,” he said. “But we’ve been forced to go further afield and now these climatic shocks becoming more prevalent have had a real impact on the food available on our shelves today.” 

Justin King, the former CEO of Sainsbury’s (the second-largest supermarket chain in the UK), is one of many experts who agrees with Bradshaw. During an interview with LBC radio, he said that the supermarket sector has been “horribly affected” by Brexit. 

Continental Europeans on social media have shared photos of their well-stocked supermarket shelves to expose the reality of recent food shortages across the UK. 

Mick Hucknall, lead singer of the British pop group Simply Red, called on his Twitter followers in continental Europe to post photos of their supermarket shelves, also implicitly blaming Brexit. 

“For the sake of balanced fairness can some of our mainland European friends pls post photos of their supermarket food shortages?” he tweeted.  

Many – especially in France – obliged.  

Some harbour no doubt that Brexit is to blame. “The reason that we have food shortages in Britain, and that we don’t have food shortages in Spain – or anywhere else in the European Union – is because of Brexit, and also because of this disastrous Conservative government that has no interest in food production, farming or even food supply,” said Liz Webster, the president of Save British Farming

In an interview with LBC, she said the only solution to the foot shortage would be to return to the single market and customs union “as quickly as possible”. 

Crop science specialist Jim Monaghan provided a more nuanced view during his interview on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme. “I haven’t spoken to a business who said Brexit has made it easier. There is a range of opinions to the extent of the problem. Getting hold of labour has become more difficult. Moving crops between Europe and the UK has become more difficult, but there are some other issues which are not Brexit-related,” he said. These include disastrous weather conditions, the energy crisis and transport problems caused by the recent nationwide strikes.  

Some British wholesalers, importers and retailers dismiss the idea that Brexit is responsible for shortages, arguing that Ireland, an EU member, is also experiencing them, according to the BBC. They say lower domestic production, more complex supply chains and a more price-sensitive market are more to blame for food shortages than Brexit.  

This article has been translated from the original in French

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