BBC News says The Northern Ireland Protocol, a clause of the Brexit deal, was designed to prevent border checks between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the European Union. This was done to help keep open trade along the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and to protect the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998. For this to happen, Northern Ireland must continue to follow EU product standards rather than UK product standards, resulting in the need for customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
The UK is now thought to be preparing to suspend parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to BBC News. Article 16 of the Protocol says parts of it can be suspended if the portion is causing serious problems and the UK believes that mark has been met. The Protocol is causing issues in the transport of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. First, it caused a sausage shortage and now, a Christmas cracker shortage as the holiday season approaches, according to AP News.
BBC News states that the EU has threatened to end the entire Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the EU and the UK if the UK uses Article 16. While the UK claims they are using Article 16 legitimately, the EU fears the UK will use the article in a more expansive way than intended. Further, The Northern Ireland Protocol is a large factor in the TCA and the EU believes its suspension gives them the right to terminate said trade deal entirely. According to BBC News, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney believes the UK suspending parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol would be “deliberately forcing a breakdown in relationships and negotiation between the two sides.”
The UK’s Brexit minister, David Frost, wants to fully eliminate customs checks between Northern Ireland and the UK, says BBC News. BBC News furthers that the EU released a plan to reduce checks on goods to Northern Ireland from Great Britain and reduce customs paperwork by 50 percent. However, the UK rejected this proposal to streamline the trade of goods calling it insufficient, according to AP News. Frost and Maros Sefcovic, his EU counterpart, have been unable to come to any agreements and, The Guardian explains, if no agreement is reached, Frost sees Article 16 as the only option.
The EU believes Frost is making unrealistic demands and says they are prepared to act. They have made it known that they could retaliate by imposing targeted tariffs, ending arrangements that allow data flow between the EU and UK, or by ending the TCA, which Bloomberg calls a “no deal” Brexit. The EU has no desire to escalate the situation, says The Guardian. The commission is expected to present the EU with more retaliatory options during the week of November 15. However, both the EU and the UK wish for continued support of political and economic stability in Northern Ireland.
Bloomberg cites an interview with international broadcaster RTE, where Coveney says, “I think they [Frost] are deliberately asking for what they know they can’t get.” He believes they are jeopardizing the whole TCA because of Frost’s demands for extensive changes to the Protocol. Bloomberg continues that the Irish Prime Minister is currently preparing for a possible trade war. In regard to Article 16, AP News quotes Sefcovic saying that “this is what leads to instability and unpredictability.”
The Guardian reports that U.S. President Joe Biden recently met with EU President Ursula Von der Leyen and has expressed his support for the EU in this matter. Von der Leyen claims Biden’s support includes the suspension of the TCA if necessary.