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Context: Britain and the European Union have reached an agreement on new trade rules in Northern Ireland in an attempt to resolve a thorny issue that has fueled post-Brexit tensions in Europe and on the island of Ireland.
- The deal could potentially resolve the issue of imports and border checks in Northern Ireland, one of the most challenging and controversial aspects of the United Kingdom’s split from the EU.
Status of Northern Ireland:
- Northern Ireland is part of the UK but shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.
- The new deal, called the “Windsor Framework,” will deliver “smooth flowing trade” within the UK, “protects Northern Ireland’s place” in the UK and “safeguards” the sovereignty of Northern Ireland.
- The purpose of the deal is to fix the issues created by the Northern Ireland Protocol, an addendum to the Brexit deal agreed by Boris Johnson and the EU in 2019.
- The protocol was created to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland aligned with the EU, meaning goods don’t need to be checked between the Republic and the province. The Windsor Framework will replace the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The two leaders laid out three essential areas in which the new deal will improve the protocol.
- The deal will protect the flow of free trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by creating green and red lanes for goods flowing into Northern Ireland.
- Goods that might end up entering the Republic of Ireland will be placed in the red lane for checks before entering Northern Ireland.
- Goods destined to remain in Northern Ireland will flow freely
- Through the deal the UK and the EU have managed to protect “Northern Ireland’s place in the union” by allowing the UK government to determine VAT rates applicable in Northern Ireland, as opposed to the current system where the rates are determined by the EU.
- This would allow recent policies, such as the reform to lower the price of pints in British pubs, to now apply in Northern Ireland.
- A new “Stormont brake” that would allow Northern Ireland’s devolved government to pull an “emergency brake” on any new EU laws from being imposed on the province.
- This will establish a clear process through which the democratically elected assembly can pull an emergency brake for changes to EU goods, rules that would have significant and lasting effect on everyday lives.
- If the brake is pulled by the Northern Irish government, the Westminster government will be given a veto over the law.
- The Stormont brake is likely to be the most controversial part of the deal as it raises questions over the imposition of EU law on a sovereign country.
- The Northern Ireland Protocol, signed with Brussels by Boris Johnson, attempted to recognize the delicate situation that Brexit created in Northern Ireland.
- Ordinarily, the existence of a border between an EU member state and a non-EU nation like the UK would require infrastructure such as customs posts.
- But during the period of sectarian strife known as the Troubles, security posts along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland became a target for paramilitary groups fighting for a united Ireland.
- In theory, the Northern Ireland Protocol was intended to do away with the need for border infrastructure. It was agreed that Northern Ireland would remain within the EU’s regulatory sphere, and that goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain would be checked before they arrived – effectively imposing a sea border.
- That enraged the pro-British unionist community in Northern Ireland, who argued they were being cut off from the rest of the UK and forced closer to the Republic.
Will this new deal fix things in Northern Ireland?
- Without question the biggest issue in Northern Ireland at the moment is that it doesn’t have a government.
- The Belfast Agreement requires that Northern Ireland’s government is comprised of representatives from the the Unionist and Republican communities.
- Disagreements over many things, including the protocol, caused the government to collapse, with the Democratic Unionist Party (the largest Unionist party) feeling cut off from the rest of the UK due to being in the EU’s regulatory sphere and subject to new EU law.
- While this deal does make things less complicated and addresses the issue of EU laws being imposed, there will still be less friction between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland than Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
- It’s also worth noting that the Stormont Brake can only work if there is a government, which could through stick rather than carrot finally restore the government in Belfast.
Must read: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/northern-ireland-protocol-10
Q) Discuss the various salient features of the Windsor Agreement. (250 words)