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EU looks toward new era of UK relations

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-10 07:20
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Leaders of European Union member states have chosen Europe Day to set out their hopes for improved relations with the United Kingdom seven years on from the Brexit referendum.

May 9 marks the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration in 1950, the first proposal by then-French foreign minister Robert Schuman toward European economic cooperation, which is regarded as the first brick of what went on to become the EU.

An article written for The Guardian newspaper speaks of the 27 EU members' shared desire to build on the progress made by the Windsor Framework, the new approach forged by the government of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and EU representatives over the long-standing complex issue of the status of Northern Ireland in a post-Brexit world.

"Rediscovery of common interests and concerns have thus led to the Windsor Framework and to a much welcome and necessary regain in trust in the EU-UK relations," the article said. "The task ahead is therefore to build on this re-engagement and to develop further the ties between the EU and the UK.

"A strong UK and a strong EU are valuable partners for each other. To our mutual advantage, we have the solid relations between our societies, our business and academic communities, and the need to ensure they continue engaging with and enriching each other in a mutually profitable and respectful manner."

For decades, Northern Ireland, politically part of the United Kingdom but geographically isolated from the rest of Great Britain on the island of Ireland, was blighted by violent civil conflict that left thousands dead. That was brought to a halt by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement when the divided province entered a healing process, but with old political resentments never far from the surface.

Britain leaving the EU meant the prospect of either a hard border being introduced between Northern Ireland and EU member state, the Republic of Ireland, which could threaten the peace process, or the compromise of Northern Ireland, being treated differently to the rest of the UK, and remaining subject to some EU legislation.

This arrangement was known as the Northern Ireland Protocol but proved hugely unpopular with members of Northern Ireland's unionist community — whose loyalty is to the UK — who felt they were being treated as less British than people on the mainland.

It was also resented by hard-line Brexit supporters in the Conservative Party, as they felt it was a watered-down version of what had been promised, and they voted against it in the UK parliament, but in vain, as it was approved by a large majority.

A joint statement issued at the time of the breakthrough by British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and EU negotiator Maros Sefcovic said: "These arrangements address, in a definitive manner, the challenges in the operation of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland over the last two years and the everyday issues faced by people and businesses in Northern Ireland."

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