March 4, 2022

Northern Ireland Protocol update - Brexit

Northern Ireland Protocal Update

When Great Britain left the European Union’s single market and customs union back in January 2020, the UK government and the EU were obliged to maintain the Good Friday agreement which contained the Northern Ireland Multi-Part Agreement and the British-Irish Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland in 1999. Apart from several key articles within the text such as citizenship and North-South cooperation, the UK and Irish governments were obliged to maintain a Common Travel Area and avoid controls over the North-South border.

Background on the Northern Ireland Protocol

On October 2019 the Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed, which was the final piece to ensure that the EU-UK deal could be finalised. Basically, the Protocol placed Northern Ireland into the EU’s Single Market thus removing the requirement to establish a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the North. However, controls were critical to secure the EU’s internal market, therefore, the controls were implemented on the Irish Sea border. Although certain goods that were not at risk of entering the EU could move from the UK into Northern Ireland more or less freely, all goods were still subject to certain degree of red tape and documentation, particularly high risk foods which were either prohibited, in the case of raw processed meats (sausages), or were subject to health controls at the border. These controls created political friction within the Unionist sections of Northern Ireland, as it was considered that British Sovereignty was being eroded and the region moving closer to the Republic of Ireland and the EU.

The Windsor Framework

Two years of disagreements over the Ireland land border have followed since Brexit, that came very close to a potential trade war, with the UK considering a unilateral removal of all controls as it became trapped between adhering to the protocol or risking further fractures with opposing political groups in the North. After numerous discussions with Brussels, on February 27, 2023 the UK Government and the EU Commission finally reached an agreement in principal to amend the protocol. The agreement is called the Windsor Framework which is designed to dramatically reduce red tape and documentation for GB to NI trade, whereby, goods not at risk of entering the EU will utilise the Green Lane, offering a virtually frictionless crossing. Conversely, goods that are destined into the EU will enter the Red lane whereby documentation and controls will still apply.

Further points:

  • The Stormont Brake, enables NI to decide on EU legislation changes before implementation, but will only apply once the Northern Ireland assembly has been re-established
  • Enabling the possibility for VAT and excise rules to diverge between the North and South
  • The new EU ICS2 pre-departure and arrival protocols will still apply to all GB-NI movements 
  • EU standards in relation to plant and animal health must be maintained.
  • Medicines will be regulated by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency across the UK as a whole.
  • Plants and seeds destined into the north will move under a UK plant passport scheme which removes the need to raise EU Phyto Certificates

Please reach out should you have any questions for our team in the United Kingdom here

Update: June 2022

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

On the 13th of June 2022, the British government introduced the Northern Ireland Protocol bill which aims to “fix” certain parts of the protocol as agreed between the United Kingdom and the European Union in 2018, which they say is allowed to do in order to safeguard an essential interest.

The protocol or “The Backstop” was supported by The Irish government and Northern Ireland political organizations Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance Party and the Green Party, however conversely Unionist political parties the DUP, UUP, and the TUV who are opposed to any arrangements that separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom objected.

In order to avoid any situation that would bring troubles back to NI, Boris Johnson, who became the Prime Minister in 2019, has sought to replace the backstop on the basis that it will result in political unrest and therefore against the Good Friday Agreement. 

The UK is proposing a change to the method of moving goods into Northern Ireland that they believe will retain the open border between the Republic of Ireland. Which are:

Arriving goods into Northern Ireland from Great Britain is split into two lanes;

Goods that will remain in Northern Ireland will go into a Green Lane whereby there will be no checks conducted

Goods that are destined to go into the EU will be placed in the Red Lane, where customs and other regularity checks will take place prior to release.

Although the bill is still in its early transition through the UK parliament and is yet to go through its second reading, the European Union has now re-launched the previously paused legal action against the UK for failing to implement border checks for goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain in response to the bill reaching its first reading. The bill may not even reach the second reading if there is no commitment from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to return to the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland, the formation of which was blocked by them on the 9th May 2022.

Further updates will be posted here, if you have any questions, please reach out!

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