Stephen Booth is an international public policy analyst and political commentator.
This month marks the third anniversary of the UK leaving the EU. A major point of contention between London and Brussels throughout this period has been the failure to reach a new and sustainable settlement on the Northern Ireland Protocol. However, a recent flurry of media reports suggests that an agreement to amend the protocol’s implementation could be presented in the coming days or weeks.
The mood between the UK and the EU has undoubtedly improved under Rishi Sunak’s prime ministership, which made a deal possible. The UK side made mistakes in negotiating protocols before and after the official Brexit date.
However, as I have argued before, the EU shares much of the blame for the current mess, failing to realize that Northern Ireland’s politics require more flexibility than the strict interpretation of the acquis communautaire. Any solution must always rely on a certain degree of trust and acceptance that some leakage is inevitable – and the previous three years suggest that the EU’s fears of goods flowing into the single market through Northern Ireland were grossly exaggerated.
While a UK-EU détente would be welcome, the evidence suggests that without the more combative approach of Sunac’s predecessors, it is unlikely that the EU would have moved at all. In June 2021, the EU insisted that the UK would fully implement the protocol and that it could not be renegotiated. By October 2021, the EU was aware that the protocol was causing practical problems and presented its own package of promising proposals. “About 80 percent reduction in checks” On most retail goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. However, on closer inspection, this apparent concession was not in line with Brussels’ billing and could still result in complex processes that would be impractical for many traders.
The DUP’s decision to withdraw from Stormont and the resulting collapse of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement institutions appear to have had some impact on EU thinking. Meanwhile with 25 peoplem As the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement approaches, both sides are under moral pressure, including Joe Biden, to reach a compromise.
Political influence is very high. Not just for the prime minister, who would have to convince many in his own party that any deal would address the real problems affecting East-West trade. But, also for the situation in Northern Ireland, where the DEP has to decide whether a deal provides enough political cover to re-enter their institutions.
So what might mooted agreements look like? The UK has always recognized the need for checks on goods entering the EU through Northern Ireland, but has argued that most goods in Northern Ireland will not require formal EU border procedures. Indeed, the Protocol introduced the idea that goods “not at risk” of entering the EU could be eligible for different tariff treatments. However, until now, the EU has taken a maximalist view of the potential risks of entering the single market for products, emphasizing tariffs and regulatory checks that are uneven and politically unsustainable.
this week RTE News reported that the European Union would accept the principle that goods sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and contained there should be treated differently for customs purposes from goods moving south in the single market. This would enable green lanes with light checks at ports, as previously proposed by the UK.
Subsequently, the guardian It has been reported that an agreement has been reached to extend the green and red lane model beyond the customs process and extend it to food safety and animal health checks – the toughest border processes to date. The green/red lane proposal is predicated on last month’s agreement whereby the UK agreed to share real-time commercial data on goods moving across the Irish Sea, allowing for random checks on suspicious movements.
Despite apparent progress on tariffs and food safety, EU officials have suggested that governance issues raised by the protocol are more difficult to resolve. Last week, the financial bar It has been suggested that a proposal under consideration would see a greater role for Northern Irish judicial and political institutions, with the ECJ taking a step away from overseeing disputes. After all, the ECJ is not expressly mentioned in the DUP Seven demands On the protocol.
In the end, nothing has been revealed yet and, as with the protocol, the devil is in the details. Many of the ideas floating around in recent weeks have been around for a long time. For example, the European Commission proposed an “express lane” in its October 2021 package, which was flattering to fraud.
EU officials are supposed to be entitled to download information on the content and form of products passing through the green lane, requiring some amount of data from traders. What do traders have to do to qualify to use any green lane? How much documentation or information must be provided? Ultimately, these practical questions are what will make a difference – or not – to traders moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
It is important that these questions are asked in any contract. However, no compromise will be perfect.
Politically, if the government is satisfied with the outcome of the talks, the best that can be expected from the DUP is probably a grudging acceptance. Ultimately, the DUP are running their own race and are focused on the more hard-line unionists on their side. If the DUP does not want to re-enter the executive, this tension will have to be tested in a new Stormont election.
Meanwhile, in Westminster, concluding a deal will inevitably cost the prime minister some political capital on the ERG with his hardliners. However, what is a possible alternative? The Labor Party is waiting in the wings ready to negotiate a deal that would require the UK to permanently shadow EU food safety and animal health rules, which would resolve the Irish Sea border issue but reduce the UK’s flexibility in non-EU trade negotiations.
On the other hand, reaching an acceptable, if not perfect, agreement could unlock UK-EU cooperation on research and development, energy and asylum. This would allow the government to genuinely present Brexit as “done” and allow the Conservatives to argue that it is possible to have a working relationship with Europe without a Labor government.