Daily News Analysis

Northern Ireland protocol  

24th July, 2021 International Relations


  • Britain said that a Brexit treaty on Northern Ireland, called the Northern Ireland Protocol, could create problems, it might have to be abandoned if it cannot be rewritten.


What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

  • The protocol aims to resolve one of the issues created by Brexit i.e. border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which remains part of the EU.
  • This frontier is contested, and parts of it were fortified during the decades of violence known as The Troubles.
  • But after a peace deal in the late 1990s, those signs of division have melted way along the open border.
  • No one wants checkpoints back, but as part of his Brexit plan, Britain insisted on leaving Europe’s customs union and its single market, which allows goods to flow freely across European borders without checks.
  • The protocol sets out a plan to deal with this unique situation.
  • It does so by effectively leaving Northern Ireland half inside the European system, and half inside the British one.


Why doesn’t Britain like it?

  • The plan means more checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from mainland Britain, effectively creating a border down the Irish Sea and dividing the UK Faced with all the new bureaucracy.
  • This has inflamed sentiment among those in Northern Ireland who want the region to remain part of the UK.


Why is the EU insisting on it?

  • EU leaders believe that the bloc’s existential interests are being put at risk.
  • For Brussels, the single market is one of its cornerstones. If that is undermined, it could threaten the building blocks of European integration.
  • EU wants Britain to sign up to Europe’s health certification rules to minimize the need for controls. So far, many of the regulations have been waived during a “grace period,” but that is scheduled to end later this year.


What would happen if Britain withdrew from the protocol?

  • Britain says it has grounds already to deploy an emergency clause known as Article 16 that permits it to act unilaterally, effectively allowing it to suspend parts of the protocol.
  • It doesn’t plan to do so for the moment, but the option remains on the table.
  • If Britain does this, the European side will most likely accuse Johnson of breaking a treaty. This could lead to retaliation and even a trade war between Britain and the EU.