Could the Northern Ireland Protocol Issue Be Resolved Soon?

The EU and the UK have been locked in disagreement since the start of the Brexit process, only briefly achieving a truce when the Withdrawal Agreement was signed at the last minute.

However, with the need to hammer out the more challenging aspects that were temporarily pushed to one side, the UK and the EU are again in fierce disagreement.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is one of the most significant barriers to moving forward, with UK politicians threatening to trigger Article 16 of the EU won’t agree to a “sensible solution”. But are the two sides any closer to reaching a consensus?

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol Exactly?

The unique history and geography of the UK and Ireland have presented a headache for Brexiteers since the start of the campaign. With some questioning whether a split could ever be achieved without changes to Northern Ireland.

Eventually, politicians came up with the Northern Ireland Protocol, a set of rules which respected the Good Friday Agreement while still enabling the UK to withdraw from the EU.

This means that there are no physical land checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but as a compromise, there are checks between Northern Ireland and mainland UK. Although the UK agreed to it at the time, in reality, it is significantly slowing trade between different parts of the UK, and unionists believe it is isolating Northern Ireland.

The EU is insisting that the Northern Ireland Protocol is adhered to while the UK government says that its European counterparts are applying the rules too rigidly and want the agreement to be rewritten.

Stock Market Wobbles

Although the fishing crisis between the UK and France seems to have been resolved, at least for now. There remains a huge number of hurdles to overcome. The Withdrawal Agreement set the thornier issues to one side – such as the financial sector – and currently, consensus on the way forward seems remote.

Investors on FTSE 100 are clearly concerned over the ongoing Brexit rows, with stocks tumbling over threats from the UK to trigger Article 16. The EU has warned that they will sue the UK if it tries to renege on the agreement, with some fearing that the pact will be torn up completely.

The EU has put forward its own suggestions for a redrafted Northern Ireland Protocol, a move that Lord David Frost described as “constructive”. However, hopes of a swift resolution were dashed when the Brexit minister added that the gaps between the EU and the UK remain “significant”.

A joint working committee between the UK and EU has at least encouraged open dialogue but so far has failed to produce any meaningful progress. The role of the ECJ remains a major source of conflict, something which the UK government says fundamentally undermines the principles of Brexit.

Both sides agree that the matter needs to be dealt with urgently, but there seems little prospect of a sufficient compromise yet. Although a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has been avoided, the invisible barrier between the latter and mainland UK presents practical difficulties that have a very real economic effect. For this reason, the UK has demanded a resolution by autumn. But this may mean the triggering of Article 16 rather than an agreement with the EU.

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