Disagreements by London and Brussels over trade settlements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have resurfaced. Brexiteers have recognised that the Northern Ireland Protocol could increase the possibility of a united Ireland.
NI Protocol Disrupted Trade Between Britain and Northern Ireland
One year after Brexit took effect in the UK, disputes about the Northern Ireland Protocol are ongoing and of concern. During Brexit talks, London and Brussels settled on arrangements for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Northern Ireland Protocol allows trucks to carry goods without paperwork and checking between Northern Ireland and Ireland. But the EU has strict border rules and the protocol disrupts the rules of trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Checks should take place on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain to comply with EU laws. Strict checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea created significant economic and political disruption in Northern Ireland last year. Supermarket shelves were empty, leading to riots by unionists; therefore, the need to revise and fix these strict implementations was inevitable.
Northern Ireland Has Different Conditions Post-Brexit
The UK and EU have talked about the protocol for months with no progress so far. Both sides suggested changes to reduce checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is different from the rest of the UK post-Brexit and has no challenging border conditions with the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s single market and follows the rules of the EU customs union. After years of negotiations to safeguard peaceful trades on the island, the Northern Ireland Protocol was reached.
The UK government has already suggested suspension of some parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. London has asked for the removal of the role of the European Court of Justice from the protocol. But abandoning the Northern Ireland Protocol could result in a challenging border disorder and cause violent conflict.
Brussels Struggles to Keep NI Protocol
The EU Commission’s vice president has complained that the problems with the protocol are due to the fact that the UK government broke international laws. The UK has threatened to invoke Article 16 if both sides do not solve the Northern Ireland Protocol’s issues. Both sides have renegotiated the protocol for several weeks to reduce checks on British products.
But the rows over Northern Ireland head into 2022 while London prefers an interim agreement before the May election and seeks to prevent the protocol from becoming the main campaign issue for nationalists. The EU asked the UK to concede on the Northern Ireland Protocol issues. The EU is trying to protect the protocol at any cost to prevent invoking Article 16 by the UK government.
There Are Fears of a Sea Border
The Northern Ireland Protocol has been at the centre of the Brexit agreement, and clashes around it could harm the deal. The presence of the protocol makes sure that the integrity of the EU’s single market for goods remains in place. Nevertheless, political fears over a complex border condition between Britain and Northern Ireland exist. But since Northern Ireland remained in the EU’s single market, the EU and UK set out arrangements for trade cooperation.
Brussels says it has reduced customs and health checks on British products entering Northern Ireland. But London wants more and argues that the protocol undermines Northern Ireland’s status as part of the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is ready to suspend parts of the protocol under Article 16. However, invoking Article 16 would backfire inside Northern Ireland.
The Irish Warned About Invoking Article 16
The UK government has claimed that Article 16 will avoid disruptions caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol. Article 16 is a safeguard mechanism that allows either party to take unilateral measures to prevent economic and environmental difficulties. But Ireland warned Boris Johnson about the impact of Article 16 that could set aside the Brexit trade deal. Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland also warned that the activation of Article 16 could put broader Brexit agreements at risk.
Checks mentioned in the Northern Ireland Protocol have not been fully implemented so far. For instance, supermarkets reduced paperwork to ease the transport of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland. Besides, unionists have been against the checks to prevent discriminatory treatment with Northern Ireland. Now, the UK government’s lack of cooperation could lead to the disappointment of citizens and politicians in Northern Ireland.
Ireland Asks Johnson to Make Concessions
If London triggers Article 16 and suspends parts of the protocol, its relations with the EU will enter a crisis. According to a recent poll, most people in Northern Ireland believe triggering Article 16 is not justifiable. For the Northern Ireland citizens, the protocol is a solution to the social and economic challenges of Brexit.
The Republic of Ireland has asked Johnson to reach a concession with the EU over the issues related to the protocol. Ireland’s foreign minister reminded of upcoming elections in Northern Ireland and emphasised that agreements over post-Brexit trading arrangements are essential. The Democratic Unionist Party has criticised Boris Johnson’s lack of action on the post-Brexit protocol. Differences damage the fragile political settlement in Northern Ireland, and any Irish border crisis could lead to a political collapse.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, as a result of Brexit, is a double-edged sword for the UK government. On the one hand, it was reached after years of negotiations and is supported by most people in Northern Ireland. At the same time, provisions in the protocol could create a sea border between Northern Ireland and Britain. Moreover, the protocol could induce that Northern Ireland is different from the rest of the UK.
There are geographical and historical ties between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Those ties could lean the majority’s opinion in Northern Ireland towards the Republic. The majority of citizens in Northern Ireland did not vote to leave the EU, and political settlement is fragile there. The UK government truly believes the protocol is not sustainable in the long term. Negotiations did not progress at the end of 2021 and officials want to wrap up the issue before the election campaign. Brexiteers think the Northern Ireland Protocol could increase the possibility of a united Ireland and no one wants a return to the past troubles on the Irish island.