Ever since the Withdrawal Agreement was signed between the government of the United Kingdom and the European Union and came into effect nearly two years ago, the supply of goods into Northern Ireland has been the source of some tension between London and its former European partners.
There have been shortages caused by supply chain issues across the UK generally, and with the extra red tape caused by Brexit in moving goods into the British-governed province.
During more than three years of highly complex Brexit negotiations, the issue of the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the south, which is an EU member, was a sticking point that ultimately scuttled a deal reached between then British PM Theresa May. To get past that impasse, PM Boris Johnson agreed to draw a customs line down the Irish Sea, meaning England, Scotland and Wales would be outside the EU’s customs area, while Northern Ireland — even though it is an integral part of the UK — would be treated separately.
The so-called ‘Northern Ireland protocol’ covers goods moving into the province, but it has mean longer delays, medical and regulatory checks and led to UK-based companies simply refusing to move goods there.
The history of the province is complex, and more than 3,600 people were killed and 36,000 injured in three decades of political and sectarian violence that formally ended 25 years ago. Unionists there are pressing the UK government to renegotiate the deal — or invoke a clause that would negate those checks. Doing that, critics say, could trigger a trade war between Brussels and London.
The Irish government, which has the support of the other 26 members of the EU, says that the Brexit deal was negotiated in good faith and that all of the signatories fully understood the consequences of placing the customs border down the Irish Sea. Simply put, the EU says, a deal is a deal is a deal.
As far as London is concerned, the deal isn’t working and it needs to be changed. With many nations concentrating on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, there is no appetite to talk Brexit again.
What’s clear is that this aspect of the Brexit deal remains an irritant, and the EU offer of reducing red tape as much as possible seems not unreasonable. Ultimately, the issue rests with London. It was they who wanted Brexit done, and did so by signing the deal.