Explainer: What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

LONDON, Feb 21 (Reuters) – Britain and the European Union are moving closer to resolving their dispute over post-Brexit trade arrangements with Northern Ireland, but any deal hangs in the balance as it will have to please multiple parties.

Below are details of the conversations and obstacles to be overcome:


Northern Ireland is a British-governed province and part of the United Kingdom that shares a long border with Ireland, a member of the European Union.

When Britain left the EU, what to do with trade across the open border was one of the most difficult parts of the Brexit negotiations.


To avoid the need for a hard border with Ireland and to prevent goods from flowing unchecked into the EU’s single market, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to effectively leave Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for goods. This means that the province must follow the bloc’s rules in relation to these movements.

Latest updates

See 2 more stories

Northern Ireland also remains part of the UK’s customs territory, effectively creating a customs border in the sea between the UK and Northern Ireland. Pro-British communities in the province say this is eroding their place in Britain.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, also says the province should not have to follow EU laws without having a say.

London says the red tape – checks and paperwork for trading some goods – created by the protocol threatens the 1998 peace deal that mostly ended three decades of sectarian violence in the province.

While opinion polls have consistently shown a majority of Northern Irish voters – who opposed Brexit – favor the idea of ​​the protocol, the province’s assembly and power-sharing government have not been in place for a year due to union opposition.

Technical talks resumed in October for the first time in seven months, shortly after Rishi Sunak was appointed as Britain’s third prime minister in as many months.


British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said that “intensive work” continued to find a solution to what the government says are several outstanding issues:


In January, the UK and the EU agreed a way forward to share live data on trade with Northern Ireland, ushering in a likely deal on customs that would see green lanes for goods bound for Northern Ireland only and red lanes for products on their way to Ireland.

The European Court of Justice

Officials have declined to comment on how they would ease the concerns of the DUP and some pro-Brexit members of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party over the role of the European Court of Justice, or rather the application of EU law in a British-ruled province.

The DUP says any new arrangement “must give the people of Northern Ireland a say in the making of the laws that govern them”.

The Protocol specifies the EU regulations and directives that Northern Ireland must remain in line with, and means that new EU laws can be added to those that apply in Northern Ireland.

The Telegraph newspaper said this month that the role of the European Court of Justice is likely to be presented differently by the EU and the UK. London will play the role of Northern Ireland judges, while the ECJ will be the ultimate arbiter of disputes over EU laws in the province. This has drawn criticism from Brexit-supporting Conservatives, who say it does not solve the problem of Northern Ireland having to follow EU law.


The British government has worked to keep the negotiations as private as possible, but this has led to speculation about how far the two sides have moved to overcome some of the issues.

At a meeting with Sunak this month, the DUP welcomed preliminary progress in the talks but reiterated its seven tests to be able to approve any deal.

Pro-Brexit Conservatives, who are part of the so-called European Research Group (ERG), have said they will support the position of the DUP, while raising concerns over the continued role of EU law in Northern Ireland and over the government’s reported plans to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, if passed by Parliament, would give the UK government the power to unilaterally decide anything short of withdrawing from the deal.

Some ERG members fear that Sunak is negotiating little more than a fudge to the existing protocol.

Sunak, who has been meeting with the ERG to ease their fears, has repeatedly said he wants to safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and find solutions to practical problems.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London, Amanda Ferguson in Belfast and Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Janet Lawrence

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *