Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland: explanations

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the “Northern Ireland Protocol”, is the part of the agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (Brexit) who takes care of avoid the establishment of a physical border on the island of Ireland after January 31, 2020, when the UK officially left the EU.

The protocol takes into account the particular situation of the island of Ireland. It has been agreed between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) and the European Union (EU) as a stable and durable solution intended to protect the economy of the whole island as well as the Good Friday Agreement (or Belfast Agreement) in all its components, and to preserve the integrity of the EU single market.

Who signed it?

The protocol was signed, on behalf of theEuropean Unionby the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

It was signed on behalf of UK, by Boris Johnson, then Prime Minister. As part of the wider Withdrawal Agreement (also known as the “Brexit Agreement”), the protocol has been ratified by the EU and the UK and has been approved by the European Parliament.

When was it signed?

The Brexit agreement and the accompanying protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland were signed on January 24, 2020.

The protocol is applied since January 1, 2021.

What are the main objectives?

Both the EU and the UK have recognized the unique location on the island of Ireland. In the protocol, the parties expressly took note of the need:

  • to avoid the establishment of a physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and to protect the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement) of 1998, which aims to promote inter-community exchanges and guarantee the absence of a physical border between Northern Ireland and Ireland
  • protect the integrity of the EU’s single market for goods

What does the protocol cover?

The protocol ensures thealignment with EU rules: Northern Ireland, which continues to be part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom, is subject to a limited set of EU rules relating to single market for goods et al’Customs Union. EU Single Market rules applicable in Northern Ireland include:

  • goods legislation, e.g. industrial products, agri-food products and medical supplies
  • sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules relating to veterinary checks
  • the rules relating to the production and marketing of agricultural products
  • the provisions relating to VAT and excise duties on goods
  • arrangements for a single wholesale electricity market on the island of Ireland
  • state aid rules

The protocol introduced a new system of checks and controls at points of entry, for example ports, on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK or any other third country. In addition, these goods are subject to the tariffs EU, unless there is no risk of them entering the EU.

The authorities of the United Kingdom are responsible for the implementation and application of the provisions of Union law made applicable by the Protocol in the United Kingdom with regard to Northern Ireland. It is therefore the authorities of the United Kingdom which carry out all the necessary checks, while the EU has appropriate mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement.

This system guarantees theabsence of checks and controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Irelandthus avoiding the establishment of a physical border and ensuring the free movement of goods under the rules of the EU Customs Union.

The protocol also provides for a consent mechanism which gives theNorthern Ireland Assembly a decisive voice with regard to thelong-term application of the relevant provisions of Union law under the protocol. This consent mechanism gives the Assembly the power to decide, by simple majority, whether to terminate the provisions of the protocol or to maintain them. Four years after the entry into force of the protocol, on 1 January 2021, the Assembly can vote to consent to the continued application of the relevant Union legislation. The first consent vote is expected to take place in December 2024.

What does the EU propose to ease the implementation of the protocol?

After in-depth discussions with the UK government and of contacts with stakeholders in Northern Irelandthe European Commission has offerson October 13, 2021, bespoke layouts emphasizing greater flexibility in the implementation of the protocol.

These concrete measures respond to the difficulties encountered on the ground by citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland due to Brexit. They relate in particular to the foodstuffsthe plant and animal healththem customsthem medications and the cooperation with Northern Irish stakeholders.

On 12 April 2022, the EU adopted rules aimed at providing permanent solutions to ensure the continuity of medicine supply from Great Britain to Northern Irelandin line with the measures presented by the Commission on 13 October 2021 to facilitate the implementation of the protocol on the ground.

On June 15, 2022, the European Commission published summary documents in the field of customs and sanitary and phytosanitary rules (SPS). The publication of these position papers follows extensive discussions with the UK government and stakeholders in Northern Ireland, which have taken place since the European Commission proposed bespoke arrangements in October 2021. .


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