Northern Ireland Protocol deal hanging in the balance

Northern Ireland Protocol deal hanging in the balance

— Negotiations over post-Brexit trading arrangements inch closer to a resolution, but significant challenges remain

— Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that there will be further talks between the British government and the EU in the coming days

— Home Secretary Suella Braverman appears to side with former PM Boris Johnson


AFTER a weekend of talks between Rishi Sunak and EU officials — with the British prime minister shuttling between Brussels, Belfast and London — a resolution to the Northern Ireland Protocol appears to be close but not finalised.

In a statement on Monday (February 27) Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that there will be further talks between the British government and the EU in the coming days.

In a tweet he said:
Good to speak again with @MarosSefcovic about ongoing work on NI Protocol. We are focused on finding a durable solution for NI.

Intensive work continues and we agreed to talk again in the coming days.

The negotiations cover future trading between the EU, Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic. Although hopes remain buoyant that a resolution can be hammered out, significant issues remain to be solved.

Details of any draft terms of the agreement have not yet been published, but it seems likely that one element will involve separating goods from Britain to Northern Ireland into ‘green lanes’ and ‘red lanes’. Goods staying within the North will go through the green lane and not be subject to checks, while those destined for the Republic will go through the red lane and be checked.

It seems inevitable that the deal will also include some provision for Northern Ireland being subject to any new rules and regulations that emanate from the EU.

Other aspects of the putative deal are causing problems from different quarters. Over the weekend prime minister Boris Johnson said he has become concerned that a successful deal will see the British government ditch controversial legislation that allows them to unilaterally dispense with some Brexit arrangements. To date, this part of the Northern Ireland Protocol has not been deployed, but its existence — and Johnson’s threat to implement it — has always been a source of tension between the EU and Britain.

Johnson’s intervention has been criticised as being unhelpful.

But home Secretary Suella Braverman appeared to tacitly side with Johson. Speaking on Monday to reporters she said:

The legislation that the government introduced is one of the biggest tools that we have in solving the problem on the Irish Sea.

It’s clear and it’s right that the prime minister is committed to finding a pragmatic solution to resolve these issues, which are affecting the people of Northern Ireland, and that we find a solution that’s pragmatic and workable both for the EU and the United Kingdom.

 At the weekend Labour leader Keir Starmer told The Observer newspaper he was taking the highly unusual step of offering his party’s support in any parliamentary vote on the agreement, enabling Prime Minister Sunak to get a deal settled. But such a move could see a bitter internal struggle within the Conservative Party,

According to The Guardian newspaper Rishi Sunak has been warned that more than 100 Tory MPs could rebel over any deal with the EU that they deem a back down.

The DUP backbenchers are watching the deal very carefully, and should they see any slippage in their demands — namely to get rid of the de facto border down the Irish Sea — any agreement will be unlikely to get their seal of approval.