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Geopolitical sparring surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol

Years after the 2016 Brexit, the EU and the UK still face issues and conflicts related to it. One of them is the Northern Ireland Protocol, and it seems that the two parties involved are still not on the same page.

🕑 3 min By Stefano Pennetta

1. What is happening in Northern Ireland?

Following the Brexit referendum in 2016, the UK left the single market. This meant that a deal would have to be reached between the UK and EU surrounding its common land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. There would either have had to be a physical customs and goods border between Northern Ireland and Ireland or an invisible one in the Irish sea. The UK drafted and signed the protocol creating an invisible border for goods and services within its own country. Now, however, despite Boris Johnson initially claiming the protocol a “success” the UK wants to change this international agreement signed only 3 years ago.

2. United Kingdom’s argument

Boris Johnson claims that the problems surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol are “not a big deal, we can fix it in such a way as to remove those bureaucratic barriers but without putting up barriers on trade moving south… That’s what we want to do”. The United Kingdom claims the checks are too stringent, thus violating the Good Friday agreement.

The UK also claims that the fact that all disputes are to be resolved by the European Court of Justice is a threat to its independence. The UK initially proposed triggering article 16 whereby the protocol would be suspended because it led to serious economic, societal, or environmental difficulties. The EU however threatened to initiate a trade war with the UK if this would have happened. The UK, not having the geopolitical leverage against the EU, decided to stop negotiating and unilaterally amend the protocol. While this bill has not yet been put into legislation, it includes having no border controls crossing the Irish sea which are intended to stay in Northern Ireland. As well as this, despite the fact that Northern Ireland would still be in the EU single market, the UK would unilaterally scrap all EU VAT rules. Lastly, the UK believes that a 3rd party should settle disputes surrounding the new protocol rather than the European Court of Justice.

3. European Union’s argument

Having seen the problems, the UK has been facing because of its decision to sign the Northern Ireland protocol, the EU has agreed to reduce checks on certain goods. However, the rest of the UK's requests are in no way feasible for the EU because it would threaten the integrity of its single market.

The EU claims it is not afraid to proceed with serious legal action against the UK. Vice-president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic stated that “unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust, the commission will now assess the UK draft legislation”

4. Closing thoughts

It appears numerous years after the Brexit referendum, Brexit, on the UK's side is an issue that has not yet been resolved. Boris Johnson promised the British an independent United Kingdom which would be free and have the strength to be a leader on the world stage. These conditions have clearly not been met and the UK is suffering. Is this enough of an excuse for the international community to feel sympathy for the UK and let them trade freely? Or is the EU to blame for signing something the UK initially proposed? Sources: BBC News, Channel 4, European Commission, DW News

Written by Stefano Pennetta

June 2022

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