Leader of DUP calls Northern Ireland protocol 'unnecessary'
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to travel to the US next week for the United Nations general assembly. According to reports, the British PM has also been invited to a meet with Joe Biden at the White House, an honour that would have taken place much sooner were it not for the Covid pandemic. But now, the timing could be key for matters on home soil.
Boris Johnson’s hard-won Brexit deal is at risk. The issues surrounding the Northern Ireland border protocol – an insurmountable challenge from the very beginning, with failed negotiations forming part of Theresa May’s downfall – are still unresolved.
Tensions between the EU, UK and Northern Ireland have increased, with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson threatening last week to pull out of a delicate power-sharing agreement in Stormont if the plans weren’t drastically overhauled.
And this week, European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said the EU would not be willing to renegotiate the deal, leading the UK’s Brexit Minister Lord Frost to threaten triggering Article 16.
Article 16 in the Brexit deal allows parts of the agreement to be temporarily set aside if they are causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade.”
If this were to happen, it would essentially be the end of the deal between the UK and EU, placing the UK’s future as a major trading partner at serious risk.
So how could Biden help?
Previous American administrations have intervened in Northern Ireland issues with some success.
Former US President Bill Clinton’s administration had a major role to play in negotiating the finer details of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which saw an end to the Troubles – and it worked until Brexit threatened to upend it.
Clinton sent a special envoy in the form of senator George Mitchell to Northern Ireland, and he eventually chaired the talks between the parties and groups brokering the deal.
So, could Joe Biden perhaps be the same peacemaker?
The EU – including the Republic of Ireland – have expressed willingness to look for further flexibilities on the deal.
Biden could lend a hand in helping Boris Johnson realise that this might be his best bet.
Writing for the Financial Times, Philip Stephens said: “Both the EU and Dublin have signalled they are willing to make compromises to
preserve the agreement — and lay the foundations for a restoration of good relations between the UK and its European neighbours.
“Biden’s message should be that of a candid friend, if not of Johnson then certainly of the UK: take the deal.”
What exactly is the problem with the border?
The Northern Ireland border with the Republic of Ireland is the only land border the UK shares with the EU.
With decades of unfettered trade while the UK was an EU member, this posed huge problems in negotiating a deal that would take the UK out of the EU single market but preserve the livelihoods of millions.
The protocol agreed aimed to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
Under this agreement, Northern Ireland is kept in the EU’s single market for goods.
This means goods don’t have to be checked as they cross the Irish border, instead, some checks and controls are required on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
This has caused difficulties for some businesses and is opposed by unionist parties in Northern Ireland, which say it undermines Northern Ireland’s constitutional position as part of the UK and creates a border in the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
In July the UK published a “command paper” proposing radical changes to the protocol but the EU says it will not renegotiate.
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