May 20, 2022
One of the main obstacles that caused much of the problems in agreeing a deal with the EU leading up to the UK’s withdrawal from Union related to the solution to retain an open border between the Republic of Ireland and UK’s Northern Ireland, as previously highlighted. In 1998, the EU and the UK established the Good Friday Agreement that finally brought peace to the North after 30 years of sectarian violence known as The Troubles.
The solution appeared to be contained within the Northern Ireland Protocol, which essentially moved the requirement for border inspections at the land border with the EU to the Irish Sea, meaning that certain goods travelling into Northern Ireland from Great Britain would then be subjected to documentary requirements and physical inspections, this also meant that Northern Ireland would be required to follow EU regulation as opposed to being able to abandon certain elements of EU regulation with Great Britain.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have objected to the protocol on the basis that it implements a border across the Irish Sea and undermines Northern Ireland place within the United Kingdom. As a consequence the DUP are refusing to form a power sharing government in Northern Ireland with Sinn Fein following the recent NI Assembly elections on May 5, 2022. Sein Fein now have a higher share of seats in the assembly, but not an overall majority.
A unilateral change in the protocol as contained in a new piece of proposed British legislation called the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which, if implemented, would release all documentary and inspection requirements for all British goods destined into Northern Ireland, and therefore cancels out parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol originally agreed by the UK Government. Liz Truss, the UK Foreign Secretary outlined to UK Parliament that the Protocol had created unforeseen problems since it was formally signed.
The European Union have made it clear that any unilateral adjustments are out of the question and that should the UK decide to go down this route then there will be consequences, which are likely to be in the form of a possible Trade War, which would be particularly hard hitting to many businesses currently trading between the EU and the UK. The EU have offered some possible solutions which include some easing of requirements, such as a major reduction on food product checks and some relaxation in the rules over chilled meats (see Brexit update June 15, 2021)
UK trade agreements, as updated on 5th May 2022 can be found here