The Sunday Telegraph
Boris Johnson must fight to replace the deeply flawed Northern Ireland Protocol
The EU seeks to keep Northern Ireland as a captive market for EU exporters by using customs controls, tariffs and regulatory barriers
From January, EU laws ceased in most of the United Kingdom. But not so in Northern Ireland. Many EU laws still apply there, and the writs of the European Court of Justice and the European Commission still run. Customs controls have been set up to create a new border down the Irish Sea, dividing one part of the United Kingdom from the rest for the first time since the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1800.
That Act got rid of customs duties and prohibitions on goods between the parts of the UK. It also said “The subjects of Great Britain and Ireland shall be on the same footing in respect of trade and navigation, and in all treaties with foreign powers the subjects of Ireland shall have the same privileges as British subjects.”
All this was overridden when the Northern Ireland Protocol came into force in January. The Protocol was a big improvement on Theresa May’s utterly disastrous backstop agreement which went before. But it is deeply flawed, and I had hoped to see it superseded by new arrangements as part of our recent trade deal with the EU.
Unfortunately the trade deal left the Northern Ireland Protocol untouched. Its huge flaws are now becoming apparent to all, with massive disruption to trade caused by the new Irish Sea border. The EU’s intransigence during the trade deal talks has worsened the Protocol’s impact because the EU has refused to give the same recognition to UK rules, inspections and certifications as it gives in its other trade treaties.
But even worse, the Protocol imposes the laws of the EU single market for goods internally within Northern Ireland. These are not just boring widget regulations. EU laws on medicines are included. After the end of a 12-month grace period, it will be the EU which controls what medicines the people of Northern Ireland are or are not allowed to get.
The problem with the Protocol is constitutional not economic. People in part of our country are subject to a slew of laws on which they have no right to vote, and which are made, amended, interpreted and enforced on UK territory by a foreign power in whose councils no UK citizens are present.
The Protocol’s supposed purpose is to allow an open land border to exist between Northern and Southern Ireland, while preventing goods from leaking into the EU market which do not pay EU tariffs or comply with EU single market laws. East-West trade across the Irish Sea is about five times North-South trade over the Irish land border. It is madness imposing damaging controls on this huge volume of trade, instead of focusing efforts on the much smaller volume of North-South trade.
EU leaders have repeatedly claimed that controls on the Irish land border would breach the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and threaten the Irish peace process. But the EU has chosen to pray in aid and potentially endanger the Irish peace process in order to promote its own interests. The EU seeks to keep Northern Ireland as a captive market for EU exporters by using customs controls, tariffs and regulatory barriers to make life as difficult as possible for goods exports.
The EU’s hypocrisy was exposed last month when it suddenly announced restrictions on the export of vaccines from the EU into Northern Ireland. This opened many people’s eyes to the EU’s total disregard for the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, and for the supposedly sacred open border.
The Commission used Article 16 of the Protocol to unilaterally suspend its open land border requirement, citing “serious societal difficulties due to a lack of supply of vaccines” as justification. But where the EU has led, the UK can follow. Article 16 also allows the Protocol to be unilaterally suspended where it is causing a “diversion of trade”. The Protocol, coupled with the EU’s intransigent attitude to maximising bureaucratic controls, is causing a large diversion of trade away from the Great Britain to NI route. Supermarkets in NI are sourcing goods from the Republic or elsewhere in the EU, while Amazon is changing to distribute parcels to NI via a warehouse in Dublin instead of the UK mainland.
To correct this diversion of trade, the UK should apply the free movement of goods rules in the UK Internal Market Act in full to Northern Ireland. Any goods legally on the market in England, Wales or Scotland could then be imported there without forms or certifications required by EU law, or without having to print an EU address on the labels. This unilateral action would provide a firm basis for negotiating the Protocol’s replacement with sensible cooperative procedures for controlling the flow of goods across the Irish land border through awayfrom-the-border means.