Brexit negotiations may be officially over, but the discussions are not quite yet.

New developments on the island of Ireland put the relationship between the UK and the EU at odds again.

Three questions.

What is going on?

A week ago, the European Commission wanted to establish border controls between the European member state of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.

The reason for this was the news that the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca will supply fewer vaccines to the EU than previously promised.

That was not to the liking of the EU, which suspected the company of giving priority to the British.

She then planned to include export controls on vaccines made in Europe.

"But the Commission had not considered for a moment that those vaccines would enter the UK via Northern Ireland. The customs border only applies from the UK to Northern Ireland, but not in the other direction," says Brexite expert Rem Korteweg of the Clingendael Institute.

The EU therefore wanted to activate Article 16 of the Brexit treaty, which says that one party can change all agreements in exceptional circumstances.

In doing so, she threatened to create a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, much to the discontent of both the British and the Irish.

Four hours later, the Commission came back to it, but confidence had already disappeared by then.

Why is that limit such a problem?

In 1998, the so-called Good Friday Agreement agreed that there would be no physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The status of Northern Ireland has long been debated in the Brexit negotiations, but in the end Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to make it a kind of twilight zone. Northern Ireland is not legally a member of the EU, but part of European customs. union, which means that it must comply with European rules regarding food safety and the like, "Korteweg explains.

"If the EU then suddenly decides to activate Article 16, it will turn everything upside down after just over a month. And the result is turbulence. The Northern Irish think that the EU no longer cares about them and revolt. European customs officers even had to be removed from the island because there were indications of an attempt on their lives. "

But there is another problem.

As Northern Ireland is bound by different rules than the rest of the UK, it is a daunting task for British supermarkets to serve their Northern Ireland branches.

"They have to go through a huge paperwork for just a package of sausages or some bread," says Korteweg.

"Northern Ireland's supermarkets are therefore becoming emptier and the entire supply chain is under pressure."

What now?

"The British government sent a letter to the EU a few days ago with some kind of ultimatum," Korteweg says.

“Basically, in the context of the damage done, she wants an implementation period to run until January 2023. So there will still be UK customs regulations in Northern Ireland during that period. But the EU will never approve such a thing. may extend the implementation period slightly, but never until 2023. "

There are now a number of possible scenarios ", Korteweg explains. At best, the tempers calm and the supermarkets simply follow British rules regarding food and potting soil, but at worst Johnson himself activates Article 16 and there is a hard line between them. Ireland and Northern Ireland. "And then we are basically back to the situation of no-deal Brexit, where there is no trade deal between the UK and the EU." Next week, British Brexit Minister Michael Gove and European Vice-President Marcus Sefcovic will sit together over the issue, they let know in a joint announcement.