Lawyer Monthly - July 2022

WWW.LAWYER-MONTHLY.COM 14 What is the Northern Ireland Protocol? Following the UK’s exit from the EU Single Market and Customs Union, the formerly free trade between Britain and EU member nations was no longer possible. The EU’s food rules require border checks when certain food and agricultural products, such as milk and eggs, arrive from non-EU countries. This raised issues for trade relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the UK’s sole land border with an EU member nation. All parties involved wish to avoid the return of a “hard border” between the two countries, which would involve the use of cameras, border posts and checkpoints with the potential to be targeted by paramilitary groups. The Northern Ireland protocol was introduced as part of the 2019 EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement as a means of preserving the soft Irish border while complying with the two blocs’ new trade relationship. It allows for a continuation of the free flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that was standard prior to Brexit. To facilitate this, when goods arrive in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK (England, Scotland and Wales), they are checked against EU rules at the port where they arrived. The new arrangement has necessitated the hiring of new customs agents to address a backlog of goods being transported across the Irish Sea, and has restricted what some supermarkets and other produce sellers are able to supply. The protocol has also not yet been fully implemented, with more checks on British goods expected to increase costs once the grace period ends. There is disagreement between think tanks on just how much disruption has been caused as a result of the protocol and whether or not its existence is a net cost or benefit to Irish trade. What Are the Effects of the Bill? The new Northern Ireland Protocol Bill proposes a fundamental shift in the way trade is conducted between Great Britain and Ireland. Its core premise is the creation of separate lanes for British goods imported to Northern Ireland, with a “green lane” exempt from checks and customs controls established for goods intended for Northern Ireland only and a “red lane” for products going to the EU – including the Republic of Ireland – which will be subject to full checks and paperwork. Beyond the issue of trade with the Republic of Ireland, the bill also gives UK ministers more power to alter tax and spending policies. Under the protocol, Northern Irish businesses currently follow EU rules on state aid and VAT, limiting government payments made to assist firms. The bill would enable the government to remove those limits. The government is also seeking to alter current arrangements so that disputes over the Northern Ireland Protocol are “resolved by independent arbitration and not by the European Court of Justice”. The largest unionist party in Northern Ireland, the DUP, is supportive of the bill, and is currently refusing to participate in the Northern Ireland Assembly until its concerns with the protocol have been resolved. Having come in second place in the May elections behind nationalist party Sinn Féin, the power-sharing government cannot be formed without its support.w

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