Author’s Note: Just a short post this evening, but I will get back on track tomorrow or Wednesday. –Mike
2021 is less than two months old and already, the European Union has been made painfully aware (once again) of its limitations. So far, 2021 has highlighted the deep divide between the grandiose designs of the EU and its limited capabilities. Even more urgent for Brussels has been the sudden lack of design or guidance from the executive EU’s executive arm.
The COVID-19 vaccines scandal is becoming the straw that could, potentially, break the bloc’s back. In short, the EU has been overconfident about vaccine production and costs. The rollout process has been slow and disorganized. Meanwhile, in Great Britain 12 million citizens have received their first dosage of vaccine, surpassing the EU in number of shots given as well as distribution time.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has come under increasingly heavy fire over the EU’s stuttered vaccine rollout. She has admitted being overconfident about production targets, and the original timelines, but that is where the mea culpa stops. She has failed to accept responsibility for the foul ups or present a realistic plan to the governments and people of member-states. In other words, von der Leyen has left much of the continent hanging in the breeze as she tries to craft a patch for this particular crisis.
If this weren’t enough, two weeks ago the EU announced its intention to invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocols. Fortunately, saner head prevailed. That’s a topic worth discussing more in the near future when more time is available.
The British government is now moving ahead on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit. Michael Gove, who has been made responsible for no-deal preparations wrote in the Sunday Times that “No deal is now a very real prospect.” Newly installed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has wasted little time in grounding the British government so to speak. In the last six months of Theresa May’s tenure the British government had functioned under a cloud of uncertainty, so to speak. A no-deal Brexit was the white elephant in the room, so to speak. Even as it became clear that May’s Brexit deal was not going to pass, the possibility of a no-deal scenario was paid no mind. No preparations were discussed internally, and whenever ‘No-deal Brexit’ was uttered by a member of the government, a swarm of political pundits descended on media outlets to explain in detail why a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic to Britain, and perhaps the world. Bear in mind too, these folks said the same thing about Brexit back in June, 2016 so their knowledge, and credibility are questionable to say the least.
With Johnson now on Downing Street, reality is setting in. To be fair, a no-deal exit is not an attractive option. It is a very real possibility at this point, and the government is preparing for it. Extra funding is being made ready for no-deal essentials like additional Border Force officers, and improved port infrastructures. Some of the newly appointed officials in the Johnson government have even publicly stated that no-deal preparations are now the government’s top priority.
The Irish border backstop has been the main sticking point in negotiations between the EU and UK. Theresa May, and EU officials had decided that no matter what the outcome of Brexit, the border between Ireland (an EU member) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK) would not be hardened. It would remain unchanged, ensuring a link between Britain and the EU in the post-Brexit years. The backstop created a firestorm in British politics and is most responsible for derailing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, and ultimately her government. Keeping an open border between the EU and Britain is seen by many as keeping the UK in the EU.
Boris Johnson is committed to removing the backstop from a future exit deal. The European Union is equally as determined to keep the backstop in the plan as part of the agreement. With this stalemate, it only makes sense for the British government to begin preparing for a no-deal Brexit as the 31 October deadline comes closer.
With three weeks remaining until the United Kingdom officially separates from the European Union, negotiations continue on in hopes of preventing a hard Brexit. Today, a proposal put forth by EU negotiator Michel Barnier brought little enthusiasm from Theresa May or members of her government. The proposal was crafted in large part to bring an end to the concerns surrounding the Irish backstop, and help reassure the British government that the border between Ireland (EU Member) and Northern Ireland (UK) will be managed properly post-Brexit.
Theresa May was unmoved by the proposal, and the reaction from other British colleagues was similar. The proposal is not seen as being enough to overcome the large amount of opposition remaining in British parliament to the UK-EU divorce deal. Negotiations between EU and UK officials will carry on over the weekend. Time is running short, and anxiety is starting to build. On Friday 29 March, 2019 Great Britain will leave the European Union. It still remains to be seen if the departure will be hard or soft. The anxiety surrounding this is what’s responsible for causing the anxiety in Britain, across Europe, and around the world.
May is feeling the pressure to get the divorce deal passed through parliament soon. Time is running out, and even with renewed negotiations with the EU, it appears quite unlikely that Brussels will amend the deal further.
*Author’s note: Short write up this evening. Apologies. I’ll try and make up for it over the weekend*