What is the Northern Ireland Protocol? Why the UK and the EU are still arguing over the Brexit deal.
The government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson reached a last-minute Brexit deal with the EU on Christmas Eve last year after ten months of negotiations.
The deal came just days before the UK’s transition period ended, which ends Britain’s participation in the EU’s single market and customs union.
The deal sealed the UK’s formal exit from the bloc, which took place on January 31, 2020.
However, this year the UK government has tried to tweak certain aspects of the post-Brexit deal related to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The EU made serious concessions on Thursday to find a solution to aspects of the protocol.
The UK government said it is reviewing the details of the EU proposals and officials from both sides will meet in London later this month to discuss the new proposals.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was implemented to avoid the introduction of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
During the Brexit negotiations, all sides agreed that protecting the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement of 1998 – known as the Good Friday Agreement – was an absolute priority.
This meant that the land border was kept open and no new infrastructure such as border posts and cameras were implemented.
In return, Northern Ireland was given a different status than the rest of the UK when it comes to trade with the EU.
It was agreed that the country should remain in the EU’s customs territory and continue to comply with EU internal market rules.
This was done to prevent goods from being checked while traveling between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Instead, controls would be carried out on goods entering Northern Ireland from England, Scotland or Wales.
Inspections would also take place in ports in Northern Ireland.
Goods subject to control are meat, milk, fish and eggs, customs declarations must be completed.
The controls have sparked criticism that a new border has actually been created in the Irish Sea.
The protocol came into force on January 1, 2021, but with a six-month grace period.
Both sides agreed to extend the grace period to September 30th while solutions were proposed.
As negotiations are still ongoing and no solution is in sight, the British government announced that it would extend the grace period indefinitely.
This prompted the EU to take legal action against the UK for accusing the government of violating international law by not consulting the bloc on an extension.
The UK wants to change the protocol and has made several proposals to the EU to abolish the majority of checks and reduce customs procedures.
The UK also wants to remove the role of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in overseeing the functioning of the protocol.
So far, the EU has been reluctant to change the terms of the protocol dramatically, pointing out that the UK agreed to the terms of the agreement last year.
But Boris Johnson has said the protocol is a huge UK compromise and has accused the EU of applying it too rigorously.
He has vowed to do everything possible to ensure smooth trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.