The Northern Ireland protocol again causes tensions between London and Brussels

A sign with a message opposing the Northern Ireland Protocol, photographed in Larne Harbour, Antrim, on November 29, 2021 afp_tickers

This content was published on May 11, 2022 – 12:24


Tensions resumed this week between London and Brussels over the “Northern Ireland protocol”, created to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit and preserve the 1998 Peace Agreement.

Under the terms of this controversial agreement, the British region of Northern Ireland remains de facto within the single European market, which implies carrying out customs controls on goods arriving from the rest of the United Kingdom, a solution that outrages unionists Northern Irish, attached to their belonging to the British crown.

– Tensions between London and Brussels –

The Northern Ireland protocol is one of the main sources of tension between the European Union and the United Kingdom. The latter requires a profound renegotiation.

London threatens to unilaterally suspend some provisions, raising fears of a trade war between the former partners.

After months of calm ahead of local elections in Northern Ireland, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson again threatened unilateral action on Tuesday, saying the protocol is “untenable in its current form”.

Brussels replied its renegotiation “is not an option”.

According to The Times newspaper, British Foreign Minister Liz Truss is considering taking action next week, including suspending the obligation to inspect goods arriving in the region from the rest of the United Kingdom.

London also wants the right granted to the EU Court of Justice to supervise its application to be abolished, replacing it with international arbitration.

– Opposing views in Northern Ireland –

The protocol is also a source of political tension within the British region, between republicans and unionists, who for three decades clashed in a bloody conflict that left more than 3,500 dead.

This new discontent sparked several nights of violence in April 2021 and forced two Northern Irish Unionist Prime Ministers, Arlene Foster and Paul Givan, to resign, the latter in February to express his DUP party’s opposition to the protocol.

Northern Ireland businesses criticize the paperwork they have to complete to trade with the rest of the UK and call for it to be simplified.

But many Northern Irish businessmen applaud the fact that access to the huge European market, vetoed to companies from the island of Great Britain, is maintained open.

– Trade disrupted with Britain –

The protocol is blamed for causing supply difficulties in Northern Ireland, despite the fact that grace periods have been established and extended in customs controls for some products, such as certain chilled meats and medicines.

Difficulties threaten to worsen once its provisions are fully implemented.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said Tuesday that Brussels “remains open to discussions” and wants to work with the UK to “provide legal certainty and long-term predictability for Northern Ireland’s citizens and businesses.”

But Truss charged that the amendment proposals made so far by the EU “have not addressed the real problems in Northern Ireland and in some cases have made the situation worse”.

– How much does it cost for Northern Ireland? –

According to regional data published in late November by the British Office for National Statistics (ONS), Northern Ireland’s economy is recovering from the effects of the pandemic faster than other parts of the UK.

But the protocol could cost the region’s GDP 2.6% in the long run compared to a no-Brexit scenario, according to a recent study by the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.

The cause is friction in trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. But the study notes that its impact could be moderated by increased trade with the EU.

For the UK as a whole, the long-term cost of Brexit could amount to 4% of GDP, according to an estimate by the British government’s public budget forecasting agency.