The United Kingdom and the European Union are getting closer to settling their disagreement over the trading policies they will pursue with Northern Ireland after Brexit, but any agreement is still in doubt since it must satisfy a number of parties.
The specifics of what each party desires are listed below.
How to ensure that Britain could trade freely with its province of Northern Ireland without establishing a hard border with EU member Ireland to prevent products from flowing unchecked into its single market was one of the most challenging aspects of the Brexit negotiations.
In order to close that circle, British prime minister Boris Johnson consented to effectively exclude Northern Ireland from the EU’s single market for goods, which requires the region to abide by EU regulations regarding such movements. Moreover, Northern Ireland is still included in the UK’s customs area.
Pro-British groups claim that this undermines their status as part of the UK by effectively establishing a customs border in the water between Britain and Northern Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland, agrees that the province shouldn’t be forced to abide by legislation without having a role in them.
According to London, the 1998 peace accord that largely put an end to three decades of sectarian violence in the province is in jeopardy because to the bureaucracy – checks and paperwork for the trading of specific items – generated by the Northern Ireland protocol.
The majority of Northern Irish people, who previously opposed Brexit, now support the protocol, according to polls, but unionist resistance has prevented the province’s assembly and power-sharing government from convening for a year.
Shortly after Rishi Sunak was named Britain’s third prime minister in as many months, technical talks picked back up in October for the first time in seven months.
A possible customs agreement that would involve green lanes for goods with a specific destination in Northern Ireland and red lanes for goods entering Ireland was ushered in when Britain and the EU reached an agreement in January on how to move forward with the sharing of live data with the EU on trade with Northern Ireland.
Express lanes are acceptable to the EU as long as protections are in place, which Britain claims it can guarantee by providing real-time customs data to the group.
The fact that the new system to provide EU customs data went live in January 2022 but was not evaluated by authorities in the bloc until late that year is a measure of how tense relations were under both Johnson and his successor, Liz Truss.
The involvement of the European Court of Justice, or rather, the implementation of EU law in a province administered by the United Kingdom, has been a source of concern for the DUP and some pro-Brexit Tories. Authorities have failed to elaborate on how they plan to allay these fears.
Any new accord “must offer the people of Northern Ireland a say in the formation of the laws which govern them,” the DUP has stated in one of its tests for an agreement.
The protocol lists the EU laws and directives that Northern Ireland must continue to abide by. This also implies, in accordance with so-called dynamic alignment, that any new EU laws may be added to those that already apply in Northern Ireland.
The Telegraph newspaper predicted earlier this month that the EU and Britain will likely describe the ECJ’s precise role in different ways. London would emphasise the role of Northern Irish judges, but the ECJ would serve as the final arbiter of any disagreements about EU law in the territory.
Tories who favour Brexit have criticised this, saying it amounts to little more than “a tweak” to the original protocol and does not address the issue of Northern Ireland being subject to EU law.
Because to the importance of the negotiations, the British government has taken great care to keep them as quiet or secret as possible. Yet, this strategy has increased scepticism about how far the two parties have progressed in resolving some of the problems.
The DUP cautiously acknowledged the progress in the negotiations during a meeting with Sunak last week, but it reiterated its seven requirements for approval of any agreement.
The so-called European Research Group, which includes pro-Brexit Tories, has stated that it will support the DUP’s position while also raising concerns about the continued application of EU law and the government’s rumoured intention to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
If the law is approved by parliament, the British government would have the authority to unilaterally decide to essentially renege on the pact, which Johnson described as a crucial negotiating chip with the EU.
According to a source close to Johnson, the former leader, who was overthrown by his own parliamentarians last year, generally believed that dropping the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill would be a grave error.