The Northern Ireland Protocol: A Continuing Issue in Post-Brexit UK

The Northern Ireland Protocol has become a contentious issue between the United Kingdom and the European Union. The protocol permits Northern Ireland to stay in the EU's single market for goods, while enforcing customs checks on goods entering from Great Britain. The Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland, mandates the absence of a hard border between the north and south of the island. The protocol has created a border in the Irish Sea, with Northern Ireland now in the difficult position of balancing its position within the UK and compliance with EU standards. British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is currently in Belfast to meet with Northern Ireland's political leaders, and speculation suggests a new deal may soon be reached.

Northern Ireland Protocol Explained

When the UK left the EU in 2019, the EU insisted on new rules for goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain to prevent goods from entering the Republic of Ireland and therefore Europe through a back door. The Northern Ireland Protocol permits Northern Ireland to remain a part of the EU's single market for goods. The protocol, however, restricts free trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by implementing customs checks on goods entering from Great Britain, hindering Northern Ireland's position within the UK.

Implications of the Northern Ireland Protocol

The Northern Ireland Protocol has created tension among Northern Ireland's political parties, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) boycotting the power-sharing government until their concerns are resolved. Unionist politicians are critical of the protocol, which they say undermines Northern Ireland's position in the UK, with fears that enforcing it could lead to violence. In contrast, many business leaders in Northern Ireland support the protocol, as it allows the region to be part of the EU's single market for goods. However, there are complaints from businesses about the added paperwork and costs, and delays in goods transportation.

New Deal Under Negotiation

The UK government has proposed a red lane and a green lane system for goods travelling to Northern Ireland. Goods in the green lane would travel mostly check-free, while goods in the red lane would require inspections and more paperwork. Unionist politicians have opposed labelling goods "Northern Ireland Only," arguing that it enforces "second-class" status. The UK government has also called for an independent adjudicator to resolve disputes involving the Northern Ireland Protocol, while the EU wants the European Court of Justice to continue in that role. However, few disputes have gone to the European Court of Justice.

The outcome of negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol is of significance to the future of the UK's relationship with the EU, as well as for Northern Ireland's position within the UK.