Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the context of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union

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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.

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Further information:

Both the UK and the EU acknowledged the unique situation of Ireland and Northern Ireland since early on in the withdrawal negotiations. This did not prevent the issue from becoming one of the major sticking issues throughout the talks. The UK Government published its position on the matter in August 2017, followed by the European Commission in September 2017. It was reported in December 2017 that an overall agreement on the withdrawal had been blocked by dissatisfied Northern Irish unionists (which then were providing support to the UK Government in Parliament). The UK Prime Minister later published a Paper setting out her commitments to the territory.

A specific solution was eventually agreed to reconcile the different interests at play. A first version was published in November 2018, followed by an amended 'New Protocol' in October 2019. It includes:

  • Alignment with certain EU rules, notably related to goods, and the Union's Customs Code is to apply to all goods entering Northern Ireland;
  • Checks and controls to take place on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom;
  • EU customs duties to apply to goods entering Northern Ireland unless those goods are not at risk of entering the EU's Single Market.

Both sides also agreed on the creation of a mechanism on 'consent', aimed at providing the Northern Ireland Assesmby a say on the long-term application of relevant EU law in the territory. This means tthat four years after the end of the transition period, the Assembly can give consent or discontinue the application of relevant EU law.

The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland was set to become applicable at the end of the transition period. It was expected that it would apply alongside any agreement on a future partnership between the EU and the UK.

A Specialised Committee on the Protocol was established under Article 165 of the Withdrawal Agreement to facilitate the implementation and application of the Protocol and make recommendations. The first meeting was held on 30 April 2020 and the second on 16 July.

Media sources reported in April 2020 on a disagreement between the UK and the EU over a request from the latter on opening a technical office in Belfast to follow the implementation of the Protocol.

Related Links
Commentary and Analysis
UK in a Changing Europe: Analysis, 28/04/2020: The Specialised Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland
The Economist, 30/04/2020: The problematic Northern Ireland protocol

The Guardian, 02/04/2020: UK government in row with EU over proposed office in Belfast
The Irish Times, 27/04/2020: Gove rejects EU request for ‘mini-embassy’ in Belfast after Brexit
The Guardian, 29/04/2020: Brussels and UK at odds over proposed EU office in Belfast
BBC News, 30/04/2020: Brexit: Committee holds 'constructive' NI deal meeting
The Irish Times, 30/04/2020: Brexit: EU tells UK it must set out plans for Northern Ireland customs checks
RTÉ News, 01/05/2020: EU warns over preparations on NI protocol

European Commission: EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement: Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland
European Commission: EC Representation in Ireland: Brexit and Ireland
UK Government: Letter from the Attorney General on the Legal Effect of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, 13 November 2018
European Commission: Memo, 14/11/2018: Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland (Questions & Answers)
BBC News, 27/04/2020: Brexit: No EU mini embassy in Belfast - Gove
UK Government: Cabinet Office: News, 30/04/2020: Ireland/Northern Ireland Specialised Committee 30 April 2020 - UK post-meeting statement
European Commission: Statement following the first meeting of the Specialised Committee on the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland, 30 April 2020
European Commission: Statement following the second meeting of the Specialised Committee on the Implementation of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland (16 July 2020)

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