It looks likely that disagreements between the UK and European Union about the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol will shortly reach a critical point, so here’s my recap.
The Withdrawal Agreement was signed by the UK on 24 January 2020 and sets the terms of the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, agreed by both sides. The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is part of this agreement.
Copies can be found at
(Local Copy pdf)
European Union Document(s)
(Local Copy pdf)
The purpose of the Northern Ireland Protocol is to prevent the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following changes to the trading relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. It is designed to protect the European Unions’ single market.
The Protocol locks Northern Ireland into regulatory alignment with European Union rules. Annex 2 to the Protocol lists more than 280 European Union legislative instruments which are to be applied in Northern Ireland.
Professor Stephen Weatherill, Somerville College and Law Faculty, Oxford University, explores how the Protocol differs between what it says and what it actually does in an article at
(Local Copy pdf)
Having eliminated the requirement for checking goods passing between NI and Ireland checks still have to be performed somewhere – resulting in a hard border between NI and GB.
This is not something that politicians can claim that they weren’t aware of – after all they did sign up to it after due diligence didn’t they ?
As the Government becomes aware of the fact that this may not actually be good for people in Northern Ireland they now want to renegotiate the whole protocol which, of course, the European Union is reluctant to do.
In July, the UK Government presented a paper to the European Union outlining their plans for a way forward
Northern Ireland Protocol Way Forward July2021 (Local Copy pdf)
The negotiation process has not been helped by the European Union invoking Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol (Jan 2021) in an attempt to stop vaccines made in the European Union from getting into the UK ‘through the back door‘. Although the European Union quickly backtracked, this was perceived as an act of hostility towards the UK and demonstrated that the European Union are prepared to go to any lengths to achieve their aims. This may also indicate that they have little regard toward the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement of 10 April 1998 which they claim to have been at the heart of Protocol on Northern Ireland.
As mentioned in the Government paper
In particular, the EU’s action on 29 January in attempting to use Article 16, without warning or consultation, to establish a vaccine frontier at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland had a dramatic effect on perceptions in Northern Ireland. However quickly withdrawn, it showed to many that the EU prioritised protection ofits Single Market above other elements of the Protocol, at a time of extreme anxiety for many about vaccine supply in the middle of a pandemic. The effects of this action continue to reverberate and have had significant political consequences.
The UK Government has indicated it may invoke Article 16, which is in place to address circumstances where the application of the Protocol has led or would lead to serious societal and economic difficulties liable to persist, or where
diversion of trade is borne out in practice or would occur, and that the circumstances exist to justify using Article 16.
The invocation of Article 16 would, of course, have dire consequences for the future relationship between the UK and the European Union and could lead to the collapse of the whole Withdrawal Agreement.
To date, the European Union has indicated that they are not prepared to renegotiate any aspect of the existing Protocol, and have thus far refused to respond to the suggestions put forward by the UK Government. Undoubtedly the European Union will present their approach with no room for compromise. Both sides are still in the sabre rattling stage but don’t be surprised when suddenly common ground is found and both sides claim victory for themselves (whatever that means).
– Watch this space