Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar hinted that the NI Protocol could be renegotiated
new Irish Prime Minister, by reintroducing the Northern Ireland protocol, Brexit The point of disagreement may actually be for renegotiation.
Leo Varadkar The prime minister (known as the Taoiseach in Ireland) returned to office for a second term in December.
He and former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson it had actually negotiated the protocol in 2019, and at the time, it was heralded that Brexit had helped cross the line after months of stalemate.
Three years later the situation is not looking good and many unionists in Northern Ireland are not happy, some even blaming Varadkar for his role in establishing the protocol.
Varadkar’s suggestion that the flashpoint can now be renegotiated is an important sign that this can – finally – be resolved.
with his British counterpart Rishi Altar We are also keen to put the issue aside this year, can a solution be found in the near future?
Here’s what you need to know.
What is the Northern Ireland protocol?
The UK was trying to negotiate the terms of its post-Brexit relationship with the EU in 2019, but the talks came to a dead end.
Northern Ireland presented a unique challenge as it is the only part of the UK that has a border with the EU (with the Republic of Ireland). What happens to the trade?
The EU has strict trade rules and the UK would be treated as a third non-EU country after Brexit, meaning any goods coming from there and entering the bloc would have to be checked.
This would only result in a hard border – but both the UK and the EU were keen to honor the 1998 peace treaty, the Good Friday agreement, by not placing a rigid border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Then – Prime Minister Johnson proposed the protocol. This would include placing a trade border between Northern Ireland and the UK in the Irish Sea.
This would allow goods to cross the Irish border easily, as Northern Ireland will continue to abide by the EU’s trade rules despite leaving the bloc with the rest of the UK.
The main problem with this proposal was that goods from the UK and entering Northern Ireland needed to be checked.
Why doesn’t everyone like the protocol?
Unionists in Northern Ireland have long argued that the protocol would separate the region from the rest of the UK, resulting in trade delays and food shortages.
These predictions have come true to some extent. largest trade unionist party DUPhe then called for a complete redrawing of the protocol, otherwise they would not enter a power-sharing government in Stormont. Sinn Fein.
How has the situation of the parties changed in the Northern Ireland Assembly?
Sinn Fein supports the protocol and won the most seats in the May general election, but the DUP still needs cooperation for the House to sit.
This is one of the key peacekeeping requirements of the Good Friday Agreement, which stipulated that Stormont should be a power-sharing coalition between Unionists and Nationalists.
The protocol has not yet been fully implemented either, as the UK is still in the grace period of the first agreement. This means more restrictions and barriers to trade are on the horizon.
Why is it so important?
Well, it’s not just protocol but also politics that are at a standstill in Northern Ireland affecting the quality of life of many people who depend on functional trade.
The deposed parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, does not sit because trade unionists in the DUP refuse to take their seats unless the protocol is resolved.
What does the EU say about renegotiation?
Until recently, the EU had steadfastly refused to renegotiate most of the protocol.
Then-Prime Minister Johnson claimed last spring: “We have been told by the EU in the negotiations that it is impossible to amend the text of the protocol to effectively resolve these issues – because there is no mandate to do so.”
But Varadkar’s recent comments seem to have changed that, as the protocol was “perhaps a little too rigid” when it was designed, he admitted.
“I’m sure we’ve all made mistakes in handling Brexit,” he said.
However, Varadkar pointed out that Brexit itself is fraught with difficulties.
“There was no roadmap, no guidance, it wasn’t what we expected it to be, and we all did our best to deal with it.”
He argued that there was “room for flexibility and change” and claimed to have shared this position with the president of the European Commission. Ursula von der Leyen.
“We are ready to show flexibility and make concessions. We want an agreement.”
During his tenure as deputy prime minister (Tanaiste), Varadkar came under intense criticism from trade unionists for his role in formulating the protocol.
Johnson and Varadkar agreed on NI Protocol in 2019
Demonstrators stood before the Irish parliament when he was appointed Taoiseach before Christmas, saying the Good Friday deal was “dead” due to Brexit.
Varadkar’s comments are the latest sign that he is softening his post-Brexit policy stance. He also stated that he plans to go to Northern Ireland to improve relations despite the coldness of the unionists.
Earlier, Ireland’s then foreign minister, Simon Coveney, had said that changing the content of the protocol would be a violation of international law, delaying the moment when the protocol would come into full force.
It is noteworthy, though, that Varadkar puts most of the blame on the United Kingdom with his statement that “Brexit was imposed on Northern Ireland without inter-communal consent”.
What does England say?
The government has been demanding changes to the protocol for months.
Although Johnson (while 10th) defended the whole concept, he admitted in May 2022 that unionist frustration meant that protocol had to be changed.
Now the UK wants to get rid of the checks and paperwork between the UK and Northern Ireland while guaranteeing that British goods that don’t leave the NI must only meet British standards.
He also wanted to remove the authority of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice over the protocol.
Sunak said he wants the entire dispute to be resolved by April – ideally on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement – in his first face-to-face bilateral meeting with US president Joe Biden, who has invested in restoring relations in Northern Ireland.
Rishi Sunak shakes hands with President Joe Biden in November
What could happen next?
Talks have been in place since September, when Johnson officially left number 10.
They centered primarily on controls over goods and the role of the European court of justice in commercial disputes.
There may be more leniency in border controls from the EU, after Varadkar pointed to the success of the UK’s unilateral decision not to impose full-fledged checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland ports, as the EU initially wanted.
He acknowledged that since 85% of goods arriving in Northern Ireland remained on its territory, this did not result in uncontrolled movements of goods into the Republic.
He explained: “We found that the protocol worked without being fully implemented. That’s why I think there’s room for flexibility and change.”
His comments were also perceived as a sign that negotiations between the EU and the UK will accelerate in the coming weeks.
But pressure is mounting for a deal before the deadline set by the Northern Ireland secretary is 19 January. Chris Heaton-Harris To call new elections for Northern Ireland’s deposed government.
If both the EU and the UK can reach an agreement by that date, a Northern Ireland election will follow in April.
Northern Ireland Foreign Minister Chris Heaton-Harris