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‘Northern Ireland Protocol’ standoff between the EU and the UK

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    World Affairs
  • Published
    17th Jun, 2022


The Boris Johnson administration has come up with a new legislation, the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) Bill, which would enable the U.K. to override provisions of the Brexit deal.

What is Britain’s new law?

  • The new legislation, yet to be tabled in Parliament, seeks to reduce customs checks and paperwork for trade between Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland (which together with Great Britain forms the United Kingdom).
  • Britain’s Prime Minister has said the changes it will introduce are “relatively trivial”. 
    • However, these changes violate a key part of the painfully negotiated 2019 Brexit deal – the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Measures of the new Bill propose

  • The bill’s main proposals are that
    • a ‘green lane’ with fewer clearances be created for goods that will remain in Northern Ireland, while a more stringent ‘red lane’ looks at goods destined for the EU
    • spending and tax policies for Northern Ireland be decided only by London
    • disputes to be resolved not through the European Court of Justice, but through independent arbitration and negotiations
    • businesses in Northern Ireland be allowed to choose between UK or EU standards

The problem

  • Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. that shares a land border with the EU, as the Republic of Ireland (or Ireland) is an EU member-state.
  • As long as the U.K. was part of the EU, things were fine. But with Brexit, the U.K. exited the EU’s customs union.
  • This created a problem whose solution needed two seemingly contradictory outcomes:
    • preserving the sanctity of the EU’s single market, as well as that of the U.K.’s domestic market

NIP, the solution?

  • The NIP’s solution was to avoid a customs check at the actual customs border — on the island of Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — as this would have violated the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and risked instability in a region with a volatile past.
  • It instead shifted the customs border to that between Northern Ireland and Britain, effectively at the former’s ports.
  • As per the NIP, goods flowing into Northern Ireland would be checked at this ‘sea border’ before entering the island, and Northern Ireland would continue to follow EU rules in product standards.

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