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A Brexit Reset?

The new deal that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has negotiated on Northern Ireland will not eliminate all the political tensions surrounding the province’s status, but, if approved, it will go a long way toward easing them. And it will bring much-needed improvement in relations with the European Union.

LONDON – Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won the December 2019 general election on the promise that he had an “oven-ready deal” to “get Brexit done.” But while the United Kingdom did leave the European Union in January 2020, Johnson’s deal included a deeply contentious protocol governing the special trade status of Northern Ireland. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s successful negotiation of an amended deal with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is thus a welcome development – one that could mark a turning point in UK-EU relations.

Brexit was an irresponsible act of self-sabotage that not only wrecked the UK’s economic and political relations with the EU, but also threatened the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. It was only in 1998 that – thanks to the US-brokered Good Friday Agreement – Northern Ireland escaped a violent three-decade-long conflict between Protestant “unionists,” who mostly wish to remain in the UK, and Catholic “nationalists,” who mostly want to join the Republic of Ireland.

Johnson’s decision that the UK would leave the EU single market and customs union and adopt its own trade rules, import tariffs, and product regulations required the erection of customs barriers between the UK and the EU. But there was broad agreement that imposing a land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

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