What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

The Protocol refers to a trade deal that was struck in the aftermath of Brexit. Due to the North no longer falling under EU jurisdiction, there is now an EU border on the island of Ireland.

The EU has tight regulations and standards for the quality control of goods. Since the 1990s, the border between the North and the Republic has had no checks or controls on goods moving between the two jurisdictions, as they were both EU regions.

However, now that the North has left the European Single Market, any goods crossing the border from the North to the Republic might have not been produced under those strict EU standards mentioned earlier.

That left politicians with two options. They could either:

· Create a hard border between both jurisdictions on the island, with goods and people being checked and processed through customs services, or;

· Create a border between Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea, which would see goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain going through a customs process which would ensure goods that did not meet EU standards were not going to be moved across the Irish border.

The second of those two options – the border in the Irish Sea – is the option that politicians went with, and that deal is what we now call the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Why some are against the Protocol

The Protocol has been lambasted by many Unionists in the North, who see it as weakening their connection to the United Kingdom and undermining their identities as British.

Many Nationalists, on the other hand, support the Protocol due to its prevention of a “hard border” between the North and the Republic, which some see as a violation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Why is the NI government so dysfunctional?

The Northern Irish government at Stormont must consist of power-sharing between the largest Unionist party and the largest Nationalist party.

The DUP, the largest Unionist party, have boycotted taking their seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly in protest of the Protocol.

Due to this, many of the responsibilities and duties of MLAs in the North can not be carried out, with civil servants instead being in charge of running the region.

What solutions are being discussed?

Discussions between the UK and the EU have been ongoing for some time, but to no avail. However, progress has been made in recent weeks, with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak travelling to Northern Ireland to discuss solutions.

It was recently reported that a two-lane system would be implemented which would see all goods coming into Northern Ireland from Britain that were set to stay in the North treated to a different customs process than goods coming from Britain with the intention of moving across the border into the Single Market.

Any potential deal is likely to include a red lane and green lane. The green lane would consist of goods destined to stay in the North, while the red lane would be for goods crossing into the Republic, which would require thorough checks and inspections.

Positives for Northern Ireland

Although the Protocol has been hotly contested by the DUP, it does bring the benefit of allowing the six counties to remain in the European Single Market. This opens up trade opportunities for Northern Irish goods producers, particularly food and beverage products with longstanding cross-border marketing strategies.

The current likely solution may prove a strong deal for the Northern Irish economy, allowing the region to keep its hand in both pots.