As the UK and EU continue to clash over the Northern Ireland protocol, Brexit minister David Frost has proposed a “standstill” to avoid future rows over deadlines. The grace period for goods moving into Northern Ireland was granted another extension of three months recently in order to avert a ban on chilled meats. The EU has fumed at Prime Minister Johnson for not abiding by the withdrawal agreement, while the UK has accused Brussels of being “inflexible.”
As Northern Ireland hopes for a permanent solution that won’t see imports of goods hit, an expert tells Express.co.uk that a “war of attrition” between Brussels and London could be around the corner.
Kevin Featherstone, an academic at the London School of Economics, points to Switzerland as an example of how grappling with the EU can last a long time.
He said: “I think what we have, at least for the medium term, we are going to have continued friction between the UK and the EU27.
“Why is that? It’s a direct consequence of us not being able to reach an overarching agreement that sets out all the substance and details. What we have is a pure outline agreement that can be interpreted differently.
“Because of that, it always meant Brexit would be a source of conflict between Brussels and London.”
“One of the interesting things is that the UK hosted the Swiss ambassador right after the 2016 referendum, and he was saying ‘your situation is going to be like us. Switzerland doesn’t have a comprehensive agreement with the EU, which means every year we have conflicts like a war of attrition'”.
Recently, Switzerland walked away from seven-year-long talks with the EU for a framework agreement, marking a huge divide between Bern and Brussels.
The two sides had been in talks over a new framework that would replace the patchwork of treaties that govern Swiss access to European markets.
Since 1992, when Switzerland rejected membership of the European Economic Area, the relationship between Brussels and Bern has been distant in comparison to other European countries.
Mr Featherstone adds that the constant clashes between the UK and EU could see Britain become “more anti-European”.
He continued: “In a war of attrition it’s very hard to find your way to everlasting peace. The Swiss haven’t managed it.
“Over time the Swiss have become more anti-European and in the UK there’s every prospect voters will remain badly divided, and many will feel the EU is being really, really difficult.
“The Swiss case is interesting as they started a little bit like us – no comprehensive agreement – that means we just have conflicts over individual issues.”
One man who could be at the centre of this “conflict” is French President Emmanuel Macron, who Mr Featherstone says could become Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “biggest problem.”
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The expert added: “London has its biggest problem with Macron in Paris, we saw that with the fishing rights.
“What we’ve seen is, Macron has become in his own mind more frustrated with Johnson and Brexit just goes against every part of his DNA really.
“At first, his attitude was ‘if you want to leave, go now! We can have a quick divorce’. But as it has dragged on, Macron has just become increasingly frustrated.
“And Ireland has benefited from that, it means that the bloc has been more united.”