Last reviewed 15 June 2022

The Government has introduced proposed legislation to amend the Northern Ireland Protocol which will, it said, ensure the delicate balance of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is protected in all its dimensions while providing robust safeguards for the EU single market.

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will allow the Government to address the practical problems the Protocol has created in Northern Ireland in four key areas: burdensome customs processes; inflexible regulation; tax and spend discrepancies; and democratic governance issues.

Foreign Secretary (and the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator), Liz Truss, said: “This is a reasonable, practical solution to the problems facing Northern Ireland. It will safeguard the EU Single Market and ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland. We are ready to deliver this through talks with the EU. But we can only make progress through negotiations if the EU are willing to change the Protocol itself — at the moment they aren’t.”

The Bill aims to create green and red channels to remove unnecessary costs and paperwork for businesses trading within the UK, while ensuring full checks are done for goods entering the EU.

Businesses will have the choice of placing goods on the market in Northern Ireland according to either UK or EU goods rules, to ensure that Northern Ireland consumers are not prevented from buying UK standard goods, including as UK and EU regulations diverge over time.

The proposed legislation will also “normalise governance arrangements” so that disputes are resolved by independent arbitration and not by the European Court of Justice (CJEU).

For those arguing that the move would breach international law, the Government has published the legal advice that it received (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/northern-ireland-protocol-bill-uk-government-legal-position/northern-ireland-protocol-bill-uk-government-legal-position) which argues to the contrary.

This is unlikely to impress the European Commission which has insisted that it has already made several concessions to ensure that the Protocol is working and has said that it will take legal action if the UK persists with moves to unilaterally amend the Protocol.

It has also indicated that it might bring forward sanctions against the UK, including the suspension of the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

It should however be some time before matters reach this point as the Bill faces strong opposition, particularly in the House of Lords, and could take a year to make its way to adoption.

Available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1082474/northern-ireland-protocol-the-uks-solution.pdf, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has published a policy paper setting out the problems associated with the Protocol and the Government’s proposed solutions.