The Northern Ireland Protocol – agreed between the United Kingdom and the European Union in 2019 – has been a source of tension since it came into force at the start of 2021. The protocol, which creates a special trading arrangement for goods coming in and out of Northern Ireland (the only part of the UK with a land border with the EU), was supposed to protect the integrity of the EU single market, maintain the peace on the island of Ireland and provide Boris Johnson with a way to finally get Brexit done.
But fast-forward to today and the protocol is as contentious as ever. Unionists in Northern Ireland say the protocol is undermining the region’s place within the UK. Brexiteers say it is hampering Britain’s ability to make trade deals with the rest of the world. And the Government has now proposed a bill to make unilateral changes to the protocol which they say will preserve the Good Friday Agreement, changes which EU leaders say they will resist with legal action.
How do we make sense of this thorny issue? Should the protocol be kept intact to maintain trust between the UK and the EU, or should it be rewritten to preserve the UK’s political stability?
Senior research fellow of UK in a Changing Europe, She was previously the programme director at the Institute for Government (IfG) directing the organisation's work on better policy making and Brexit. She has written a number of reports on the civil service and the implications of Brexit for Whitehall and Westminster. She is a former senior civil servant, having worked in HM Treasury, Number 10 and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).