Northern Ireland Protocol requires people's consent to remain 'durable', but expert suggests fixes

Fri 26 Mar 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

irish border

Minister for EU relations Lord David Frost has said that the Northern Ireland Protocol can only be “durable” if it receives the consent “of all the people” in Northern Ireland.

Responding to questions in the House of Lords, he said the Protocol should be implemented in a “proportionate manner,” the BBC reports

However, an ex-advisor to former prime minister Theresa May has suggested that issues experienced as a result of the Protocol could be fixed by new mechanisms that are already in use in other UK-EU trade arrangements.

Legal route

The EU has started legal action against the UK after the latter made unilateral changes to how the Protocol is being implemented.

Unionists in Northern Ireland have called for the scrapping of the Protocol and are challenging it in court.

Action has been lodged in the High Court of Northern Ireland with a full hearing expected to take place in mid-May.

New thinking

However, former special adviser to Theresa May, Raoul Ruparel, has written an opinion piece in Politico about how to fix the new trade arrangements between GB and the region.

With current arrangements not delivering on the Protocol’s promise to “impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities in both Ireland and Northern Ireland”, new thinking is required, he argues.

Solution one: SPS alignment

Ruparel outlines two potential solutions.

Firstly, a UK-wide fix would involve the UK and the EU reaching an agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks to limit the need for any checks or certification.

The concept has already been agreed to in parts of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), with the UK committing not to regress on current labour and social employment laws. Where the UK diverges in these areas, the EU can take remedial measures, which are enforced and overseen by a panel of experts.

This solution looks similar to an agreement the EU has with Switzerland, although the Swiss version completely adopts EU legislation on SPS checks rather than a commitment to align with it. Britain will not agree to anything which involves indefinite alignment of rules.

Solution two: ‘at risk’

Another option outlined by Ruparel is an NI-specific plan which would extend the concept of goods being deemed ‘at risk’ of being sold in the EU – currently used for applying tariffs – to include agri-food regulations.

If there’s no risk that goods entering NI will be sold on into the EU, they would be exempt from agri-food requirements.

Port support

The impact of the rules as they stand continues to have an impact on trade flows between Britain and the island of Ireland, with the viability of Welsh ports now under threat, according to the BBC.

Trade at Welsh ports has collapsed since the start to the year as hauliers are taking direct routes from Ireland to Europe because of the delays caused by the new administration. Year-to-date volumes are down 50% in Holyhead, and 40% in the south west.

The Welsh government earlier this month published a plan aimed at supporting the ports.