Home » Politics » Northern Ireland protocol meaning: What is the NI protocol? Why is it important?
Northern Ireland protocol meaning: What is the NI protocol? Why is it important?
September 10, 2020
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The Internal Market bill has thrown a proverbial spanner in the Brexit works, as Boris Johnson tries to reshape the already ratified Withdrawal Agreement. The UK is edging closer and closer to a hard no-deal Brexit – and further late-stage changes could imperil the Northern Ireland protocol – and the Good Friday Agreement.
The Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis sensationally admitted that the Government’s attempts to pass the Internal Market bill would break international law in a “specific and limited way”.
The introduction of the bill has not gone down well in political circles and beyond, with the permanent secretary to the Government Legal Department, Sir Jonathan Jones, announcing his resignation from government in light of the bill.
The bombshell exit makes him the sixth senior civil servant to leave Whitehall this year.
Sir Jonathan, who is the Government’s most senior lawyer, is understood to have believed the plans went too far in breaching the Government’s obligations under international law.
What is the Northern Ireland protocol?
The Northern Ireland protocol is a system agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement last year.
It means Northern Ireland will still follow the EU’s customs rules and product standards when trading with Ireland, to avoid the imposition of a hard border between the two countries.
This would mean checks on goods in and out would not be necessary, and the trading position remains largely the same.
The extent of checks at Northern Ireland’s ports is still to be agreed – but the agreement ensures as seamless a transition as possible.
Having checks on the Irish border is strongly opposed in NI and Ireland.
Even if the UK leaves without a deal, the Northern Ireland protocol would kick in.
The Northern Ireland protocol replaced the NI backstop created as part of Theresa May’s deal.
The protocol is due to come into force on January 1, 2021, the end of the transition period.
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Why is the Northern Ireland protocol important?
Avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is firstly important because of the island’s shared history.
If the protocol is broken, undermined, or scrapped altogether, this would threaten the Good Friday Agreement.
The Good Friday Agreement, possibly one of the most important agreements in recent political history, brought an effective end to the Troubles.
It established a devolved power-sharing administration and created new institutions for cross-border cooperation and structures for improved relations between the British and Irish governments.
The cross-border strand of the agreement lays out 12 areas of cooperation, which are overseen by the North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC).
It goes without saying that a hard border would make that strand of the agreement more extremely difficult to operate.
It would also have huge implications for the rest of the UK, with the US Congress Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi saying the USA would not trade with the UK if the agreement was violated.