The UK is moving into a crucial phase of negotiations with the EU about the further implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. On Tuesday the government’s negotiator, Lord Frost, will present in Lisbon a new proposed legal text of the protocol, which is expected to remove the role of the Europe Court of Justice in the case of disputes. Changes to the protocol have been demanded by the four unionist parties in Northern Ireland.
However, from a European perspective this is unlikely to be acceptable. The Irish minister for foreign affairs, Simon Coveney, has made it clear that while the EU is working to resolve the practical issues within the framework of the protocol, it will not be prepared to rewrite the terms of a deal that both sides had signed.
It was always going to be difficult to make the status of Northern Ireland – part of the EU customs area but also part of the UK – work in practical terms, quite aside from the drafting of the protocol. But it has become doubly difficult because of lack of trust between the two sides. It is the nature of all EU negotiations that they should be fraught. Most recently there was a hot debate over the EU’s emergency post-Covid recovery fund and in the past few days over Poland’s legal challenge over the supremacy of European law. So we should not be too surprised by current tensions between the UK and EU over Northern Ireland. With goodwill it should be possible to reach agreement. Sadly the fact that this problem should be fixable does not mean it will be fixed.
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