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What Is the Northern Ireland Protocol? How & Why Does the UK Want to Change It?

The EU has decried the UK's plan, arguing that it is a breach of international law, and has threatened legal action.

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What Is the Northern Ireland Protocol? How & Why Does the UK Want to Change It?
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The British government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, 13 June, published plans that will essentially rip to shreds an important part of the post-Brexit deal that it had agreed upon with the European Union in 2019.

It wants to modify the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way that will make it easier for some goods to be transported from the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland.

Naturally, the EU has decried the move, arguing that rescinding this part of the deal is a breach of the international law.

Indeed, there is a lot to unpack here. So let's go one by one. What is the Northern Ireland Protocol? How does Boris Johnson want to change it? And what can the EU do?

What Is the Northern Ireland Protocol? How & Why Does the UK Want to Change It?

  1. 1. The Northern Ireland Protocol

    Special trading arrangements between the UK and Northern Ireland, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, which were agreed with the EU in 2019 and implemented at the start of 2021, have been a constant point of contention between London, Belfast, and Brussels.

    The only reason that the EU is involved is that Northern Ireland has a land border with a country which is part of the alliance – Ireland.

    When Brexit happened, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland exited the EU.

    Now, the issue here is trade. Pre-brexit, it was easy to transport goods across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland because both were part of the EU (when Britain was still part of the EU). Both countries had the same rules, and bureaucratic procedures like border checks or paperwork were not required.

    Post-Brexit, however, the Northern Ireland ceased to part of the EU, but according to the Northern Ireland Protocol, it continued to a part of the EU's single market, which has strict food rules and requires checks at the border when goods like milk and eggs arrive from non-EU countries (in this case, the UK).

    Therefore, according to the protocol, border and document checks would occur for goods being transported between Northern Ireland and Great Britain (at the former's ports).

    So, essentially, because of the protocol, goods from the UK are being treated as if they are entering the EU, because the latter wants its single market, known as the European Common Market, to remain untouched.

    But why is that such a problem?

    Expand
  2. 2. The Stakes Are Higher Than Just Trade

    This tussle is not just about trade. It has consequences for the larger issue which is the degree of Northern Ireland's autonomy from the UK, and whether it remains a part of the UK or not. If not, it would spell catastrophe for whoever is leading the British government.

    The roots of this issue go back to what is known as the Good Friday Agreement, a 1998 peace plan that ended the 30-year conflict in Ireland, popularly called "the Troubles."

    The pact, which also consisted of a mediation role of the United States, eliminated the militarised border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and restored self-government via "power-sharing" in Belfast between pro-Britain unionists and pro-Ireland republicans (who say that British control in any part of Ireland is illegitimate).

    The worry is that the unionists in Belfast could stir trouble with respect to the power sharing institutions if they perceive that the trage agreements between the UK and the EU undermine their demands of being politically and economically closer to the UK.

    Expand
  3. 3. What Does the UK Want to Change?

    The UK government is arguing that its plan would ease the impact on businesses in Northern Ireland.

    It wants to create red lanes and green lanes for goods that will be transported from Britain into Northern Ireland.

    The former would be for traders taking goods only to Northern Ireland, who would be exempt from checks and customs controls (minimal paperwork). The red lane, on the other hand, would be for those goods going into EU countries including Ireland which would face all the checks and customs controls that the EU wants.

    Additionally, according to the BBC, tax rules would change as businesses in Northern Ireland are currently subject to EU rules on state aid and VAT, which would be removed by the new plan.

    The UK government also wants an independent institution to adjudicate legal disputes over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and not the European Court of Justice.

    Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said that the plan is "a reasonable, practical solution to the problems facing Northern Ireland," as reported by the BBC.

    Expand
  4. 4. EU Threatens Legal Action Against UK

    The EU, of course, is not going to just sit back. It has already announced that it is going to launch legal action against the UK.

    Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Brexit commissioner, criticised what he called a "damaging" move.

    "As the first step, the commission will consider continuing the infringement procedure launched against the UK government in March 2021. We had put this legal action on hold in September 2021 in the spirit of constructive cooperation to create the space to look for joint solutions. The UK's unilateral action goes directly against the spirit," he was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

    Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, who is on a trip to Israel, is yet to comment on the UK's plan.

    Criticism did come from Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, who accused the British prime minister of playing politics with peace in Northern Ireland.

    "We as EU have put concrete proposals for solutions on the table. With a firm view to: citizens and businesses who benefit from the EU single market every day. And the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement. Peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland are not a pawn," Baerbock tweeted.

    (With inputs from Reuters, BBC, and The Guardian.)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

The Northern Ireland Protocol

Special trading arrangements between the UK and Northern Ireland, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, which were agreed with the EU in 2019 and implemented at the start of 2021, have been a constant point of contention between London, Belfast, and Brussels.

The only reason that the EU is involved is that Northern Ireland has a land border with a country which is part of the alliance – Ireland.

When Brexit happened, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland exited the EU.

Now, the issue here is trade. Pre-brexit, it was easy to transport goods across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland because both were part of the EU (when Britain was still part of the EU). Both countries had the same rules, and bureaucratic procedures like border checks or paperwork were not required.

Post-Brexit, however, the Northern Ireland ceased to part of the EU, but according to the Northern Ireland Protocol, it continued to a part of the EU's single market, which has strict food rules and requires checks at the border when goods like milk and eggs arrive from non-EU countries (in this case, the UK).

Therefore, according to the protocol, border and document checks would occur for goods being transported between Northern Ireland and Great Britain (at the former's ports).

So, essentially, because of the protocol, goods from the UK are being treated as if they are entering the EU, because the latter wants its single market, known as the European Common Market, to remain untouched.

But why is that such a problem?

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The Stakes Are Higher Than Just Trade

This tussle is not just about trade. It has consequences for the larger issue which is the degree of Northern Ireland's autonomy from the UK, and whether it remains a part of the UK or not. If not, it would spell catastrophe for whoever is leading the British government.

The roots of this issue go back to what is known as the Good Friday Agreement, a 1998 peace plan that ended the 30-year conflict in Ireland, popularly called "the Troubles."

The pact, which also consisted of a mediation role of the United States, eliminated the militarised border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and restored self-government via "power-sharing" in Belfast between pro-Britain unionists and pro-Ireland republicans (who say that British control in any part of Ireland is illegitimate).

The worry is that the unionists in Belfast could stir trouble with respect to the power sharing institutions if they perceive that the trage agreements between the UK and the EU undermine their demands of being politically and economically closer to the UK.

What Does the UK Want to Change?

The UK government is arguing that its plan would ease the impact on businesses in Northern Ireland.

It wants to create red lanes and green lanes for goods that will be transported from Britain into Northern Ireland.

The former would be for traders taking goods only to Northern Ireland, who would be exempt from checks and customs controls (minimal paperwork). The red lane, on the other hand, would be for those goods going into EU countries including Ireland which would face all the checks and customs controls that the EU wants.

Additionally, according to the BBC, tax rules would change as businesses in Northern Ireland are currently subject to EU rules on state aid and VAT, which would be removed by the new plan.

The UK government also wants an independent institution to adjudicate legal disputes over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and not the European Court of Justice.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said that the plan is "a reasonable, practical solution to the problems facing Northern Ireland," as reported by the BBC.

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EU Threatens Legal Action Against UK

The EU, of course, is not going to just sit back. It has already announced that it is going to launch legal action against the UK.

Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Brexit commissioner, criticised what he called a "damaging" move.

"As the first step, the commission will consider continuing the infringement procedure launched against the UK government in March 2021. We had put this legal action on hold in September 2021 in the spirit of constructive cooperation to create the space to look for joint solutions. The UK's unilateral action goes directly against the spirit," he was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, who is on a trip to Israel, is yet to comment on the UK's plan.

Criticism did come from Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, who accused the British prime minister of playing politics with peace in Northern Ireland.

"We as EU have put concrete proposals for solutions on the table. With a firm view to: citizens and businesses who benefit from the EU single market every day. And the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement. Peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland are not a pawn," Baerbock tweeted.

(With inputs from Reuters, BBC, and The Guardian.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad
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