Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol

Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol

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All you need to know about the Northern Ireland Protocol

Rumours are flying that the UK and EU might soon reach an agreement to adjust the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol. Such a deal could bring much-needed relief to both sides.

This article provides extensive answers to the frequently asked questions about the Irish Sea trading arrangements.

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU included a clause which managed to resolve the major hindrance in their divorce negotiations - the Irish land border. Both parties accepted this clause.

In order to have a seamless border, London and Brussels shifted the regulatory and customs inspections necessitated by Brexit to the Irish Sea. This allowed for the unobstructed movement of goods between the nations.

The new regulations on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland have created a lot of hassle for businesses, as well as infuriating loyalists & unionists who believe Northern Ireland's place in the UK has been weakened.

In January 2021, Sporadic cases of violence were reported after the implementation of the protocol. However, these did not have a large impact across different areas or any long-lasting effect.

What connection does the protocol have with the political deadlock at Stormont?

For power-sharing institutions to effectively work, both the largest nationalist and unionist parties need to collaborate with each other.

In protest of the protocol, the DUP exercised its veto power to halt progress in devolution.

Refusal to participate in the boycott renders the ministerial executive unable to operate efficiently and hinders the legislative assembly from carrying out their daily routines.

Without their political leaders present, civil servants are left to handle the daily running of public services. However, the decisions they take might be limited due to the lack of guidance from ministers and certain laws or policy changes cannot be implemented during this political deadlock.

The Democratic Unionist Party has asserted that it will only return to the devolved government when real modifications are made to the protocol.

Steps taken by UK Government and the EU to resolve the dispute

When the UK Government presented the protocol as their solution to "get Brexit done," they were excited and viewed any initial trade disruption as only minor issues.

Shortly after the protocol started to be implemented, Prime Minister Boris Johnson began to alter his public opinion of it.

The Government argued that the protocol had disrupted the fragile equilibrium of unionist and nationalist ambitions set out in the Good Friday Agreement, primarily by impacting east-west trading activities.

Tensions between the UK & EU heightened rapidly following this incident, with the European Union taking legal action against Britain for their lack of compliance with the agreement set out in the protocol.

Discussions between the UK and the European Commission were at a standstill with minimal indication of development, causing tensions between London and Brussels to increase when the UK government proposed the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, it included a provision to allow its ministers to annul the agreement without obtaining permission from the European Union.

Brussels cautioned that such a move would've likely provoked countermeasures, bringing the risk of a trade war.

The relationship between the UK and EU seems to have significantly improved since Rishi Sunak took over the role of Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street.

The Prime Minister is determined to reach an agreement with the EU and has paused the passage of the Protocol Bill for now. Negotiations have resumed in earnest with the goal of finding a viable resolution that both sides can agree to.

Also Read: EU narrowly escapes a winter recession with the help of Ireland’s growing economy


What terms could a potential agreement involve?

The EU and UK both recognize the importance of distinguishing goods destined for Northern Ireland from those that will be transported further into the EU single market through an unmonitored land border with the Republic of Ireland.

It appears that the deal would include two distinct lanes - 'green' and 'red'. Products coming from Northern Ireland would require minimal paperwork and can use the green lane. Those going to Ireland will have to go through thorough protocol checks while transiting via the red lane.

Are there any potential issues that could arise?

The greatest challenge to the progress of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could be its oversight role.

The Protocol has had both positive and negative impacts on the trading relationship between Great Britain & Northern Ireland. On the plus side, it allows businesses in Northern Ireland to access two markets

  • Within the UK
  • With the EU Single Market
Supporters of this approach have argued that it must be retained as it offers economic benefits that shouldn't be underestimated.

Through the Protocol, Northern Ireland can take advantage of the single market. And any matters pertaining to EU law in this region will be ultimately decided by the European Court of Justice. Consequently, people in NI get access to the vast opportunities that come with a single market.