Discussions on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

Author Details
Author (Corporate)
Publication Date 2021-
Content Type , ,


Information Guide bringing together a summary and relevant sources concerning the discussions around and challenges facing the implementation of the Protocol signed by the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) aimed at regulating the situation in the island of Ireland following the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.

Further information:

The substantive provisions of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland started to apply on 1 January 2021. However, its full implementation was subject to great controversy and discussion in the months that followed, particularly as the impact of those provisions on the relations between Northern Ireland (NI) and Great Britain (GB) became more visible.

In late January 2021, the European Commission initially indicated it intended to trigger Article 16 of the Protocol - also known as the Safeguard Clause - to temporarily place export controls on this movement in respect of vaccines. Following criticism from UK and other European stakeholders, the Commission later backtracked on the decision.

On 3 March, the UK Government stated it intended to unilaterally extend the grace period on paperwork concerning GB-NI movement of goods and pet travel. This was criticised by the EU as a delay to the full application of the Protocol, and therefore a potential breach to it. The European Commission argues this had been conducted without previous consultation or discussion in the bodies established by the Withdrawal Agreement signed between the two sides. As a result, the Commission addressed a Letter of Formal Notice to the UK on 15 March, thereby launching an infringement procedure for breaching substantive provisions of the Protocol, as well as the good faith obligation under the Agreement. The UK was given one months to submit its observations to the Letter. A political letter was also sent to the UK's co-chair of the EU-UK Joint Committee, which urged the UK government to rectify and refrain from putting into practice the statements and guidance published earlier in the month, and to engage in bilateral consultations for a solution to be found.

On 30 June, the Commission issued a package of measures aimed at addressing some of the concerns regarding the implementation of the Protocol. Unilateral statements were issued by both sides extending the grace period for the movement of chilled meats from GB to NI until 30 September 2021. The Commission also placed other solutions on the table in a number of areas, including supply of medicines, guide dogs and the insurance green card.

The infringement procedure was halted by the Commission on 27 July to allow room for talks between the two sides. UK minister for Brexit, David Frost, called for a complete overhaul of the Protocol. While reaffirming it would not engage in renegotiation, the Commission was open to discuss matters relating to the practicalities around the application of the Protocol on the ground.

On 13 October, the Commission tabled further four non-papers aimed at addressing the difficulties felt by Northern Irish people as a result of Brexit. This package was portrayed as a result of discussions with the UK Government, as well as outreach to relevant stakeholders in NI. It also responded to elements raised by the UK's Command Paper published in July.

*page under development*

Related Links
Commentary and Analysis
LSE: EUROPP Blog, 14/01/2021: Article 16 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol offers no ‘quick fix’ https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2021/01/14/article-16-of-the-ireland-northern-ireland-protocol-offers-no-quick-fix/
The New Statesman, 03/02/2021: What is the solution to problems with the Northern Ireland protocol? https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/the-staggers/2021/02/what-solution-problems-northern-ireland-protocol
The Guardian: Editorial, 04/02/2021: The Guardian view on Northern Ireland and Brexit: stick with the protocol https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/04/the-guardian-view-on-northern-ireland-and-brexit-stick-with-the-protocol
Euro|topics, February 2021: Row over customs checks: ire in Northern Ireland https://www.eurotopics.net/en/255688/
Robert Schuman Foundation: European Issues No 583, 08/02/2021: Brexit and the Irish Question https://www.robert-schuman.eu/en/european-issues/0583-brexit-and-the-irish-question
Deutsche Welle, 10/02/2021: Northern Ireland: The Brexit problem that will not go away https://p.dw.com/p/3p7uF
LSE: Brexit Blog, 04/03/2021: Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol: the EU must play the long-game https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2021/03/04/ireland-northern-ireland-protocol-the-eu-must-play-the-long-game/
Institute for Government: Blog, 05/03/2021: Cooperation not confrontation should be at the heart of UK–EU discussions on the protocol https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/blog/cooperation-northern-ireland-protocol
BBC News, 10/03/2021: Brexit: What will happen when EU-GB grace periods expire? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-56325881
The Economist: Explainer, 10/03/2021: Why is the Northern Ireland protocol so contentious? https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/03/10/why-is-the-northern-ireland-protocol-so-contentious
Institute for Government: Blog, 12/03/2021: Delaying Brexit border checks solves some problems but creates others https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/blog/delaying-brexit-border-checks
BBC News: Explainers, 15/03/2021: Brexit: What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why are there checks? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-53724381
Social Europe, 29/03/2021: Why the protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland matters https://socialeurope.eu/why-the-protocol-on-ireland-northern-ireland-matters
Euro|topics, April 2021: After Brexit: hotspot Northern Ireland? https://www.eurotopics.net/en/259245/
The Economist, 19/06/2021: The quest for a more pragmatic Northern Ireland protocol https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/06/19/the-quest-for-a-more-pragmatic-northern-ireland-protocol
Euronews, 29/06/2021: Northern Ireland: Who's right in the EU-UK dispute over the Brexit protocol? https://www.euronews.com/2021/06/29/northern-ireland-who-s-right-in-the-eu-uk-dispute-over-the-brexit-protocol
EPRS: Briefing, July 2021: EU-UK relations: Difficulties in implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2021)690712
The Conversation (UK), 29/07/2021: Northern Ireland protocol: here’s what a compromise between EU and UK could look like https://theconversation.com/northern-ireland-protocol-heres-what-a-compromise-between-eu-and-uk-could-look-like-165043
German Institute for International and Security Affairs: SWP Comment No 51, September 2021: A Shared Responsibility for Northern Ireland. Why the EU and the UK Should Work Together to Find Flexible Solutions after Brexit https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/publication/eu-after-the-brexit-a-shared-responsibility-for-northern-ireland
The Constitution Society: Blog, 21/09/2021: Northern Ireland: a constitutional exception and why it matters https://consoc.org.uk/northern-ireland-a-constitutional-exception-and-why-it-matters/
UK in a Changing Europe: Long Reads, 25/09/2021: The Protocol: ‘dynamic alignment’ in post-Brexit Northern Ireland https://ukandeu.ac.uk/long-read/the-protocol-post-brexit-northern-ireland/
The Constitution Society: Blog, 06/10/2021: The politics of the Northern Ireland Protocol https://consoc.org.uk/the-politics-of-the-northern-ireland-protocol/
Euro|topics, October 2021: Northern Ireland Protocol: what comes next? https://www.eurotopics.net/en/269562/
RTÉ News, 13/10/2021: NI Protocol - What is it and why is it so controversial? https://www.rte.ie/news/brexit/2021/1013/1253435-ni-protocol/
Dublin City University: Brexit Institute: Blog, 14/10/2021: Of No Deals, Deals and New Deals: The Commission’s proposal on the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland https://dcubrexitinstitute.eu/2021/10/no-deal-new-deal-ni-protocol/
The New Statesman: The Explainer, 15/10/2021: What is the Northern Ireland protocol, and why does it matter? https://www.newstatesman.com/the-explainer/2021/10/what-is-the-northern-ireland-protocol-and-why-does-it-matter
LSE: EUROPP Blog, 15/10/2021: It’s time for Northern Ireland’s Unionist parties to decide what they actually want to achieve out of the Protocol renegotiation https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/ni-protocol-renegotiation/
Euro|topics, October 2021: Northern Ireland Protocol: London seeking confrontation https://www.eurotopics.net/en/269791/

BBC News, 29/01/2021: Brexit: EU introduces controls on vaccines to NI https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-55864442
ITV News, 29/01/2021: EU U-turns on blocking Covid vaccine exports to Northern Ireland - What does it mean for Brexit and what is Article 16? https://www.itv.com/news/2021-01-29/irish-pm-welcomes-brussels-u-turn-on-bid-to-override-northern-ireland-protocol
Politico, 09/02/2021: Ireland wants EU ‘early warning system’ after Brexit border row https://www.politico.eu/article/ireland-seeks-new-eu-safeguards-after-brexit-uk-deal-override/
The Guardian, 11/02/2021: Gove and Šefčovič reiterate commitment to NI protocol after crisis talks https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/11/irish-pm-asks-eu-uk-dial-down-rhetoric-before-crisis-talks-gove-sefcovic
Reuters, 21/02/2021: Northern Ireland parties take legal action against Brexit deal https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-nireland-idUSKBN2AL0EW
EUObserver, 22/02/2021: Northern Ireland unionists attack EU-exit treaty https://euobserver.com/political/150999
Politico, 24/02/2021: No agreement on Northern Ireland grace periods in latest EU-UK talks https://www.politico.eu/article/no-agreement-on-northern-ireland-grace-periods-in-latest-eu-uk-talks/
Reuters, 03/03/2021: EU vows legal response as UK moves unilaterally on Northern Ireland https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2AV1AQ
Euronews, 03/03/2021: EU will go to court over UK's 'unilateral action' on Northern Ireland Protocol https://www.euronews.com/2021/03/03/eu-will-go-to-court-over-uk-s-unilateral-action-on-northern-ireland-protocol
The Irish Times, 03/03/2021: Government brands UK move to delay checks on goods entering North from Britain ‘deeply unhelpful’ https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/government-brands-uk-move-to-delay-checks-on-goods-entering-north-from-britain-deeply-unhelpful-1.4500122
Politico, 03/03/2021: EU says UK risks breaking law with solo bid to ease Northern Irish checks https://www.politico.eu/article/britain-delays-full-enforcement-of-eu-rules-at-northern-irish-ports/
France24, 03/03/2021: EU warns UK over delayed N.Ireland food checks https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210303-eu-warns-uk-over-delayed-n-ireland-food-checks
EurActiv, 04/03/2021: New Brexit row after UK extends exemption to Irish border checks https://www.euractiv.com/section/uk-europe/news/new-brexit-row-after-uk-extends-exemption-to-irish-border-checks/
The Guardian, 10/03/2021: Brexit: EU poised to take legal action against UK over Northern Ireland https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/mar/10/brexit-eu-poised-to-take-legal-action-against-uk-over-northern-ireland
The Guardian, 11/03/2021: UK forced to delay checks on imports from EU by six months https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/mar/11/uk-forced-to-delay-import-checks-on-eu-goods-by-six-months-2022-border-post-not-ready
BBC News, 12/03/2021: Brexit: UK delays border checks on EU goods into Great Britain https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-56361229
RTÉ News, 15/03/2021: EU takes legal action over UK move to change terms of NI protocol https://www.rte.ie/news/brexit/2021/0315/1204033-eu-ni-protocol/
Sky News, 15/03/2021: Brexit: UK hits back at EU for launching legal action over Northern Ireland Brexit 'breach' https://news.sky.com/story/eu-launches-legal-action-against-uk-for-breaching-northern-ireland-protocol-trade-agreement-12246863
Wales Online, 15/03/2021: European Union begins legal action against the UK over post-Brexit trade 'breach' https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/uk-news/european-union-begins-legal-action-20165893
Politico, 07/07/2021: Boris Johnson: UK and EU have only deferred chilled meats row https://www.politico.eu/article/great-britain-northern-ireland-protocol-boris-johnson-meat-product-shipments/
The Irish Times, 21/07/2021: Brexit: EU ‘will not renegotiate’ Northern Ireland protocol as UK demands changes https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/brexit-eu-will-not-renegotiate-northern-ireland-protocol-as-uk-demands-changes-1.4626719
Deutsche Welle, 24/07/2021: New Brexit drama looms over Northern Ireland protocol https://p.dw.com/p/3xzTP
The Telegraph, 26/07/2021: EU's protocol proposals don't go far enough, says UK https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2021/07/26/britain-rebuffs-brussels-latest-northern-ireland-protocol-proposals/
Politico, 28/07/2021: EU pauses both Brexit lawsuits against the UK https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-uk-legal-actions-paused/
Reuters, 08/09/2021: EU rejects UK demand to renegotiate N. Ireland protocol https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/eu-not-aiming-renegotiate-n-ireland-protocol-eus-sefcovic-2021-09-08/
The Guardian, 10/09/2021: EU rejects UK’s demand to scrap Northern Ireland protocol https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/sep/10/scrapping-northern-ireland-protocol-will-only-make-things-worse-says-eu
CityAM, 29/09/2021: Brexit: 'No way’ Northern Ireland Protocol will be renegotiated, warns Michel Barnier https://www.cityam.com/brexit-no-way-northern-ireland-protocol-will-be-renegotiated-warns-michel-barnier/
EurActiv, 07/10/2021: EU will go to ‘enormous lengths’ on Irish protocol, says Sefcovic https://www.euractiv.com/section/uk-europe/news/eu-will-go-to-enormous-lengths-on-irish-protocol-says-sefcovic/
Politico, 10/10/2021: EU unity faces fresh test in Northern Ireland Brexit row https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-northern-ireland-brexit-unity-protocol/
France24, 13/10/2021: UK shares new post-Brexit trade plan for Northern Ireland with European Union https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20211013-uk-shares-new-post-brexit-trade-proposal-for-northern-ireland-with-eu

European Commission: Relations with the United Kingdom: Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/relations-non-eu-countries/relations-united-kingdom/eu-uk-withdrawal-agreement/protocol-ireland-and-northern-ireland_en
UK Government: Guidance for retailers: supplying medical devices to Northern Ireland (5 January 2021) https://www.gov.uk/guidance/guidance-for-retailers-supplying-medical-devices-to-northern-ireland
UK Government: Publications: Letter from Michael Gove to Maroš Šefčovič on the next steps on the Northern Ireland Protocol (2 February 2021) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/957996/2020_02_02_-_Letter_from_CDL_to_VP_S%CC%8Cefc%CC%8Covic%CC%8C.pdf
UK Parliament: Written Statements, 03/03/2021: Statement made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2021-03-03/hcws819
European Commission: Statement by Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič following today's announcement by the UK government regarding the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland (3 March 2021) https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_21_1018
UK Government: Press Release, 03/03/2021: Lord Frost call with European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič: 3 March 2021 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/lord-frost-call-with-european-commission-vice-president-maros-sefcovic-3-march-2021
UK Parliament: Written Statements, 11/03/2021: Statement made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2021-03-11/hcws841
European Commission: Press Release, 15/03/2021: Withdrawal Agreement: Commission sends letter of formal notice to the United Kingdom for breach of its obligations under the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_1132
European Commission: Letter from Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič to David Frost, 15 March 2021 https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/letter-vice-president-maros-sefcovic-david-frost-15-march-2021_en
UK Government: Publications: Policy Paper, 21/07/2021: Northern Ireland protocol - next steps https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/northern-ireland-protocol-next-steps
UK Parliament: House of Lords Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Introductory report (July 2021) https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/7001/documents/72888/default/
European Commission: Statement by the European Commission following the ninth meeting of the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland (24 September 2021) https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/statement-european-commission-following-ninth-meeting-specialised-committee-implementation-protocol-ireland-and-northern-ireland_en
European Commission: Press Release, 13/10/2021: Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Commission proposes bespoke arrangements to benefit Northern Ireland https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_5215

Subject Categories , ,
Subject Tags
Countries / Regions
International Organisations