On Monday (13th) the UK government published a parliamentary bill which, if approved, would remove some key elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol and end certain checks on goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland (NI).
In response the EU are expected to launch legal action and have accused the UK of going back on its agreement and breaking international law. The EU Commission is meeting on the 14th where they are expected to sign off on their next legal steps.
EU Member States including Ireland, Germany and Italy have already condemned the move whilst the US has urged the UK government to “continue negotiations with the EU in good faith.”
The UK have defended the bill saying it is an important step in order to maintain the NI peace process and necessary to re-establish an Executive in NI.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement that the UK “have been acting in good faith in these negotiations but the fundamental issues that are affecting political stability in Northern Ireland are in the text of the protocol and what we needs is the EU to agree to change the text.”
EU Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič responded to the bill by stressing that the UK-EU “relationship must…be based on the full respect of the legally binding commitments that we have made to one another – commitments based on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.” He went on to say: “renegotiating the Protocol is unrealistic. No workable alternative solution has been found to this delicate, long-negotiated balance. Any renegotiation would simply bring further legal uncertainty for people and businesses in Northern Ireland. For these reasons, the European Union will not renegotiate the Protocol.”
UK Unions to meet with UK Ambassador to the EU to discuss NIP
This week the four Presidents from the UK Farming Unions will meet with the UK Ambassador to the European Union Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby to discuss concerns over the situation with the NIP and in particular the impact on agriculture in NI – especially when it comes to creating restrictions and checks on agricultural produce, animals, veterinary medicines and plants moving from GB to NI. We will also discuss how the tabling of the new bill, and the subsequent dip in international relations, impacts our working relations with European farmers and industry.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says it wants to see pragmatic solutions being found to ensure the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol is workable for every farming sector in NI, because while certain elements have been working, it is creating some difficulties within the UK internal market.
UFU president David Brown said, “We want to see ongoing negotiations on the NI Protocol settled with immediate effect to address the series of issues it’s creating. The UFU represents farmers across all agri sectors in NI and while some parts of the NI Protocol are working for several commodities, it is causing havoc for others….Pragmatic solutions need to be found to make the NI Protocol work for agriculture in its entirety, and as one of NI’s largest and most economically valuable sectors, it’s in government’s best interests to deliver on this immediately.”
What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?
The Northern Ireland Protocol is part of the UK’s Brexit deal which keeps NI in the EU’s single market for goods and avoids a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. Instead, checks need to take place on goods arriving into NI from GB. This is opposed by NI unionists who argue that it creates a border in the Irish Sea and could lead to the breakup of the UK.
What is the UK government proposing?
At the centre of the UK government's plan are measures to ease the impact on businesses - set out in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill - including the concept of "green lanes" and "red lanes" for trade. This would involve:
- Goods coming from Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) into Northern Ireland and which are staying there using the green lane - meaning no checks and minimal paperwork
- Goods moving from Great Britain through Northern into Ireland or the wider European Union would using the red lane - that is, continuing to be checked at ports in Northern Ireland.