What is the Nothern Ireland Protocol?
The current handling of post Brexit trade deals within Northern Ireland, by the United Kingdom, is causing concerns for many EU countries. The UK intends to suspend parts of the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, known as the protocol.
Since the protocol began in early 2021, it has sparked numerous disagreements between the UK and the EU. The initial Brexit Withdrawal Agreement saw the UK agree to Nothern Ireland remaining a part of the EU internal market. The EU market requires custom checks and food safety inspections on goods entering from outside the EU. These checks include safety inspections on both milk and eggs. Additionally, chilled meats from non-EU countries aren’t able to enter the European Union. Following Brexit, these regulations now apply to the UK.
However, despite this, the UK wishes to treat Northern Ireland and Great Britain as one entity in order to justify suspending these trade checks. Many feel that having checks in the Northern Ireland ports has created a new and unnecessary border within the Irish Sea.
What does the UK want?
The UK has accused the EU of enforcing the protocol to strictly and the Brexit minister, David Frost, has suggested multiple proposals to re-evaluate protocol. These predominantly rely on the honesty of businesses and would encourage the suspension of these checks. Additionally, the UK government wishes to see the European Commission and the European Court removed from the enforcement of protocol entirely.
Currently, the UK is considering evoking Article 16 which would allow either side to suspend any part of the agreement that is thought to cause societal or economic difficulties. Lord Frost suggested that Article 16 was potentially ‘the only way’ to overcome the current disagreements as it could lead to the full suspension of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
What has been the EU’s response?
The UK Brexit minister has to urged Brussels to react to the suggestion of Article 16 with caution. Despite this, the EU has deemed the renegotiation of protocol an impossibility. They have counter offered a reduction in both the checks and paperwork involved but remain unmoving on its complete erradication. They have also confirmed supporting the passing of a legislation to allow the trade of medicines between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Additionally, many EU countries have raised concerns over the UK’s proposal. Diplomats have suggested altering protocol will cause the EU to appear weak. The European Union currently has trade deals with countries including China and wish to avoid appearing unable to enforce their trade requirements.
The government has refused to make any firm decisions on Article 16 until they have had the opportunity to hold talks with Brussels. As evoking Article 16 will undoubtedly increase instability for Northern Ireland and trigger continued unrest between the EU and the UK. Both the European Union and the United Kingdom’s main priority is avoiding a trade war which would be difficult for many nations involved.