Boris Johnson signs off controversial Northern Ireland Protocol bill
Boris Johnson has signed off on a controversial bill that will look to override some elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, allowing businesses to decide whether it applies to them or not. This is the second questionable bill to be proposed for EU regulations in recent weeks, following the Brexit Freedoms Bill.
The NI Protocol has drawn skepticism since being signed off in 2019. Although implemented to prevent a hard border from being introduced between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the confliction with the Good Friday Agreement and Acts of Union mean that many question if the Northern Ireland Protocol is unlawful.
How did the Protocol come to be?
This issue arose after the UK left the European Union. The ROI remains part of the single market with the EU, whilst NI remains with the UK. The question was how to protect the EU’s customs territory, the Acts of Union, the Good Friday Agreement, and Northern Ireland’s hard-won peace (after the Troubles).
Boris Johnson and the EU agreed to keep the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open. This avoided infrastructure like cameras or border posts being implemented between the ROI and NI.
To achieve this, Northern Ireland’s status had to be different from the remainder of the UK when trading with the European Union. NI had to stay within the EU’s customs territory, the same as the ROI. Therefore, they needed to continue following the single market regulations established by the EU for goods in order to avoid goods having to be checked between NI and the ROI. Instead, customs checks would be applicable on goods entering NI from Wales, Scotland, or England.
What is the problem Boris Johnson is looking to solve?
Unfortunately, the NI Protocol has proven to be difficult in practice. Companies importing goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland have had significant problems since the controls have added complexity and costs. Horticulture and food importers have had the biggest issues, since those goods are subject to the most rigorous controls. Exporters have benefitted since they have been able to maintain access to markets in the EU without any friction.
Critics of the protocol have said that it has effectively resulted in a new border being set up in the Irish Sea and have claimed that it undermines the place of Northern Ireland in the UK. As a result, Northern Irish ministers have appealed successfully to take the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Supreme Court.
The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) have been outspoken against the Protocol since it’s implementation. They have now refused to establish a new government with Sinn Fein until changes have been made.
What is the Boris Johnson’s proposal for Northern Ireland?
The new legislation will be applied by invoking Article 16. This allows either party to amend the NI Protocol unilaterally should they experience environmental, societal, or economic difficulties.
The proposed bill is set to preserve the elements of the protocol that are currently working while seeking to fix those that aren’t. This includes goods regulation, movement of goods, subsidy control, governance, and VAT. The bill aims to remove checks for goods that aren’t destined to cross the border into the ROI.
The bill will effectively enable companies in Northern Ireland to choose whether they prefer to be in the EU or with the rest of the UK for trading purposes. It will also ensure that UK state aid rules and VAT apply in NI.
The EU has opposed the bill and is poised to take legal action against the United Kingdom once the bill has been fully analysed. Vice-President of the European Commission Maros Šefčovič has been quoted saying the UK’s actions are causing uncertainty and damaging the trust between the UK and the EU. The Irish Prime Minister has also called for fresh negotiations between the EU and the UK to resolve the impasse.
When will this Northern Ireland bill be implemented?
The implementation of the Northern Ireland Bill will take time. There is an extensive process to get bills through UK parliament. There are first and second hearings, a panel, a report, and then a third hearing before it can be officially passed.
Furthermore, it looks very likely that there will be opposition from within the UK Government. Those against it will delay the bill in the hope of amendments being made. Some will also abstain in their support until there is confirmation that the bill is breaking no international laws.
What does this mean for customs clearances in Northern Ireland?
Are you concerned about Boris Johnson’s Northern Ireland Bill?
As a customs broker, we believe that there is no cause for concern over Boris Johnson’s Northern Ireland Bill. There is no certaintly on what will change until the bill is passed, and the changes will take time to implement. If you’d like more information on customs clearance, contact one of our team for assistance.