Disputes surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol are bringing rising tensions between the UK and the EU.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was a key facet of the Brexit arrangement between the UK and the EU. The Northern Ireland Protocol, in order to circumvent having to put international checks on the border in Ireland, puts customs checks instead at the ports, described as a “border in the Irish Sea”. This appeals to nationalists because it creates a de-facto economic united Ireland, but enrages unionists because it puts international checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, thereby severing Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom.
The fragile peace in the North of Ireland was built upon the concept that, despite the international border imposed by Britain, there was no need for border customs checks because both states were members of the European Union.
However, these post-Brexit requirements on goods travelling from Britain into Ireland are causing headaches for business owners. In one instance, the Chairman of Marks & Spencer, Archie Norman, has described how 20% of his goods travelling to the Republic of Ireland are being turned away and destroyed at the port of entry. Norman lamented the fact that, despite following all customs regulations, petty enforcement practices are negatively impacting his business.
In each truck going to Ireland there is about 720 pages of documentation, amounting to 40,000 pages of documentation weekly for his distribution to Ireland – and yet he has had entire trucks turned away because of one page having blue instead of black ink. Overzealous practices by the EU enforcers do not appear to be helping the situation, which is having the domino effect on many British businesses.
The British government’s Brexit minister, David Frost, has said that significant changes need to be made to the protocol. The major problem that the European Union has with this complaint is the fact that the protocol is a facet of an international deal that took years to negotiate and finally implement, with portions of the arrangement not yet fully implemented.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that the Protocol as it currently stands is unsustainable, but von der Leyen has said that the EU would continue to be “creative and flexible” within the protocol’s framework, adding that the protocol would not be renegotiated.
The true losers of this dispute are the small business owners and ordinary people of Britain and Ireland, who are short-stocked on goods that used to flow freely between the two countries. Ireland’s largest trade partner is the United Kingdom, but unfortunately for Ireland, they are unable to negotiate directly with Britain because they are a member state of the European Union. Time will tell whether these impasses can be resolved.