Explained | The controversy around the Northern Ireland Protocol

What is the News?

The UK administration has come up with new legislation named the “Northern Ireland Protocol Bill”. The Bill would enable the UK to override provisions of the Brexit deal that concern trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol(NIP)?

Special trading arrangements were needed for Northern Ireland after the UK voted for Brexit in 2016. This is because it’s the only part of the UK with a land border with an EU country – the Republic of Ireland.

Before Brexit, it was easy to transport goods across this border because both sides had the same EU trade rules. No checks or paperwork were necessary.

After Brexit, a new system was needed because the EU has strict food rules and requires border checks when certain goods -arrive from non-EU countries.

Hence, the UK and the EU agreed to sign the Northern Ireland Protocol in 2019 as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which is now part of international law.

What does the current protocol provide for?

Instead of checking goods at the Irish border, the protocol agreed that any inspections and document checks would be conducted between Northern Ireland and Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). 

It was also agreed Northern Ireland would keep following EU rules on product standards.

Why are businesses in the UK opposing this protocol?

The main irritant for the U.K. in the current version of the NIP was the creation of “unacceptable barriers” to trade within the U.K. internal market — between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 

It has sparked complaints from businesses about the enormous paperwork needed for the supply of goods and services to Northern Ireland despite it being within the sovereign territory of the U.K.

What are the changes the UK has proposed to this protocol?

The UK government wants to create red lanes and green lanes for goods imported from Britain into Northern Ireland.

The green lane would be for trusted traders transporting goods to Northern Ireland only. These would be exempt from checks and customs controls,

The red lane would be for products destined for the EU, including the Republic of Ireland. These goods would undergo full checks and customs controls.

The government also wants an independent body to settle disputes over the Northern Ireland Protocol, rather than the European Court of Justice.

What has been the reaction to these proposed changes?

Political parties in the UK and EU officials have pointed out that the changes would violate international law, damage the U.K.’s reputation as a trade partner and spark a trade war with the EU. 

Moreover, the EU’s executive branch has announced that it would be taking legal action against the U.K. for violating international law.

Source: The post is based on the article “Explained | The controversy around the Northern Ireland Protocol” published in The Hindu on 15th June 2022.

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