Press Release: Fixing the Northern Ireland Protocol is possible
With a serious standoff over the Northern Ireland Protocol looming, threatening long-term relations between the EU and the UK and destabilising the precarious political situation in Northern Ireland, there is still a way forward if leaders are prepared to engage in good faith, according to a new paper from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI).
Fixing the Northern Ireland Protocol: The Way Forward, published tomorrow (Wednesday, 1 June), outlines a possible landing zone for agreement that would address the problems the protocol presents and make the agreement more stable and durable.
The paper by TBI’s senior fellow Anton Spisak sets out a practical way through that will require far greater engagement from leaders at the highest levels than we have seen in the past few months. The current approach has squandered goodwill, damaged trust and raised concerns about each side’s intentions, as the paper details.
TBI’s package of proposals could offer a viable landing zone for agreement. At the core is the idea, which TBI has previously advocated for, to create a special “Northern Ireland approved” goods designation. The proposals also include novel ways for addressing concerns over the protocol’s lack of democratic legitimacy in Northern Ireland and for minimising the role of the European Court of Justice in the future.
However, the paper warns that finding a way forward is only possible with a change in the political approach to the protocol from both sides.
In his foreword for the report, Tony Blair wrote:
“It is in the interests of broader European harmony and trade – especially at a time when Europe,
including the UK, has come together impressively over Ukraine – that both the EU and the UK show maximum flexibility in order to reach an agreement over Northern Ireland.
“My judgement – with long experience of EU negotiations – is that things have reached such a state of distrust that the two bureaucratic systems will not settle this; it has to be done at the highest political level because, ultimately, it is not a matter of technical work but political will and leadership.”
Anton Spisak said:
“With its latest plans to introduce domestic legislation overriding the Northern Ireland Protocol, the British government is giving the EU an ultimatum – agree to renegotiate the Protocol, or we will suspend it unilaterally.
“Acting unilaterally will not only put the UK in breach of its international commitments, but it will also put a halt to any serious efforts to fix the protocol for a very long time.
“There is a viable compromise to be struck between the UK and the EU, but the key challenge is how to get there politically. Credible solutions are only possible with a change in the political attitude from both sides and a structured negotiating process to explore the viability of concrete solutions.
“The risk now is that the tactical posturing overtakes pragmatism, with the UK not accepting responsibility for the agreement that it negotiated and signed and the European leaders unwilling to signal more flexibility within EU rules for the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland. If this happens, the Protocol will remain a thorn in the side of their mutual relations for the years to come.
The six areas the paper urges leaders to address are:
Agree a “Northern Ireland approved” goods designation, exempting goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland from regulatory checks and customs requirements necessary under EU law, provided that these goods categories meet a small number of requirements.
Develop a robust surveillance and enforcement system to prevent non-compliance.
Create a governance arrangement to manage future barriers to trade.
Give Northern Irish and UK representatives greater consultative opportunities on draft EU laws that apply to Northern Ireland.
Extend the arbitration-based dispute-settlement mechanism from the Withdrawal Agreement to the trade-related parts of the protocol.
Keep the question of substance separate from legal form.