Britain and the EU agree a framework for Northern Ireland and Ireland, after lengthy discussions on the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol - which was signed when the UK left the EU. The framework will simplify trade in the UK and be a means of avoiding tensions between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was part of the withdrawal agreement that was drawn up between the EU and Great Britain with Brexit. The protocol would regulate the transport of goods between British Northern Ireland and the EU country of Ireland, thus maintaining a soft border between the UK and the EU. Through the protocol, Northern Ireland would continue adapt to EU rules and legislation for duties on all goods brought into the island from other countries, including those remaining within Great Britain. This has meant that goods from the rest of the UK have been checked in the Northern Irish ports.
Shortly after the Protocol entered into force in January 2021 was criticized that both in London and among unionists in Northern Ireland who argued that it created different regulatory frameworks for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland's largest party, the DUP, felt it undermined Northern Ireland's place in the union. Criticism of the protocol also concerned a concern that the protocol would provoke political tension between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
25 years since the Northern Ireland peace agreement
It was in 1922 that the Irish island was divided – the Irish Free State was formed in the south and Northern Ireland in the north of the island, with a majority Protestant and loyal to Great Britain. The last wave of violence in Northern Ireland broke out in the late 1960s, and then continued for almost 30 years. The conflict claimed the lives of over 3 people, and after several repeated attempts to resolve the conflict, the Belfast Agreement in 000, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, finally succeeded in paving the way for a more peaceful Northern Ireland and putting an end to the bloody wave of violence between Catholics and Protestants. The Belfast Agreement meant that Northern Ireland got its own self-government with some right to regulate its politics, even though the country is part of the United Kingdom.
In April 2023, attention was drawn 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement. Political leaders such as Joe Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Rishi Sunak were present in Northern Ireland during the celebrations. But the anniversary also meant an extensive security effort - which was described as the biggest in the last decade.
The EU and Great Britain can begin a new chapter
After Britain left the EU, tensions in Northern Ireland have increased, and the concern regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol has thus partly been about a fear of cracking the Good Friday Agreement. This has contributed to Northern Ireland not being able to agree on a regional government since the election last May.
In response to the criticism of the protocol, the British government presented new details for the agreement in June 2022. This created unrest in EU-centric Brussels, which felt that the British chose to overlook parts of the Northern Ireland protocol. The EU launched several processes against the UK, where they would investigate whether the UK had breached the Northern Ireland Protocol.
In February this year, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen finally presented a new agreement for Northern Ireland – the so-called Windsor Framework.
The new framework mainly covers customs and trade regulations. Unlike the Northern Ireland Protocol, the framework allows UK law to be fully applied to the goods brought into the island, thereby replacing the provision that Northern Ireland must conform to the previous EU law. In March 2023, the EU's decision-making institution, the Council, adopted a decision to implement the framework.
- The agreement is a positive result. It is expected to benefit people and businesses in Northern Ireland and should enable the EU and the UK to start a new chapter, EU minister Jessika Roswall (M) said, after EU composede council decisions.