The Northern Ireland Protocol was established to prevent the reintroduction of a “hard” trade border on Ireland’s island. Instead, all commodities crossing the Irish Sea from the United Kingdom (UK) to Northern Ireland (NI) must adhere to EU regulations, even if they never leave the UK.
Both parties negotiated and signed the protocol, which is now part of international law, but they are having difficulty putting it into practice.
The current system is incapable of handling the volume of checks required on goods entering Northern Irish ports from the United Kingdom. The UK government has extended a variety of grace periods on its own. Even so, Northern Ireland’s authorities are having trouble keeping up with demand.
Northern Ireland’s chief veterinarian, Robert Huey, stated that his staff was doing more checks on products of animal origin going over the Irish Sea than all of France’s ports combined. He further claimed that it performed 325 daily document inspections, compared to only 125 at Rotterdam, one of the world’s busiest ports.
This is largely due to the fact that containers arriving in Rotterdam are frequently filled with a single commodity, whereas each supermarket lorry crossing the border from the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland carries many cargoes, all of which must be inspected.
Many of these issues, according to the EU, would be resolved if the UK agreed to temporarily adopt the EU’s veterinary arrangements, and it has proposed a deal similar to the one it has with Switzerland. All border checks and veterinary declarations for British food entering Northern Ireland or the EU would be eliminated.
In exchange, the UK would be bound by EU food-safety regulations, even if they were to change in the future. The UK, on the other hand, refuses to accept this, claiming that one of the key reasons for Brexit was to get away from EU rules.
There is also concern that adhering to EU laws will make it more difficult to reach an agreement with the United States, despite the fact that no such accord appears to be on the horizon.
The UK would like an agreement similar to the one the EU has with New Zealand, in which the EU recognizes UK food-production standards as equivalent to its own. This would lessen trade friction, but not to the extent that a Swiss-style agreement would.
There would also need to be arrangements in place to allow products meant solely for the Northern Ireland market and not to be sent across the land border into the EU to be exempt from border inspections. However, any possible solution requires a level of mutual confidence, which is in limited supply.
However, any possible solution requires a level of mutual confidence, which is in limited supply. Hopes that a summit of world leaders might smooth out some of the rough edges of the discussion have been shattered. Indeed, public conflicts at the G7 conference have exacerbated the situation.