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NI Protocol: New tensions as trade restrictions surge

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

The NI Protocol is a mechanism which enabled the UK to leave the EU as a whole without imposing a hard border on the island of Ireland which could jeopardise fragile peace agreements.

PM Boris Johnson has threatened to override parts of the NI Protocol unless the EU eases restrictions faced between Great Britain and the region by invoking Article 16. This comes right after the EU was planning to use the same channel when it halted the supply of vaccines at the Irish Border, although this was averted almost immediately and faced instant criticism.

Business Matter Magazine reported that on Wednesday (4th Feb), the UK had submitted a request for a 2-year extension period on the core elements of the protocol, including checks on food and delivery of online shopping entering to the region from Great Britain. However, this was submitted shortly after PM Johnson had told the House of Commons (3rd Feb): 'We will do everything we need to do, whether legislatively or by triggering Article 16 of the Protocol, to ensure there is no barrier down the Irish Sea'. This has added to ongoing tensions.

It is not surprising that a lot of discussions have taken place about Article 16. Anton Spisak, Policy Lead at The Tony Blair Institute, wrote about this saying:

"It allows either side to act unilaterally - for example by suspending certain obligations - if there are "serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties" arising from the application of NI Protocol.

By acting unilaterally, Spisak adds: it means being able to suspend certain rights and obligations, which are made under NI Protocol, without going through a usual process for resolving disputes. It is an option of last resort"

He provides an insightful explanation as to why Article 16 is not a means to revoke, temporarily suspend, disapply the Protocol, or to address reasonably foreseeable consequences of applying the Protocol. Instead he says Article 16 is a channel to address issues which were not reasonably foreseen, but which could have a serious impact on society, the economy and environment as a direct result. Check the full thread of his explanation here.

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