What is the Northern Ireland protocol? Legislation explained

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The Northern Ireland Protocol was put in place to prevent a post-Brexit hard border on the island of Ireland

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refuses to join the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland (NI), citing protocol as the reason.

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The protocol, which came into force in January 2021, aims to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland after the United Kingdom left the European Union (EU).

Here’s everything you need to know about the protocol and why the UK may be scrapping it.

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What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

The Northern Ireland Protocol was implemented to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit.

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It was approved by the EU and UK governments in 2019 and came into force in January 2021.

The protocol prevents controls on goods being transported between Ireland and Northern Ireland by leaving NI in the European single market.

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How does the Northern Ireland Protocol work? (Image: National World/Kim Mogg)

England, Scotland and Wales left the single European market after Brexit, meaning certain goods coming into Northern Ireland from the UK and vice versa are subject to additional controls.

Unionists oppose the protocol as they believe it creates a trade barrier and undermines Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

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Why do we need the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK bordering the EU, and post-Brexit regulations had to be put in place so that goods leaving and entering the UK could be inspected.

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To avoid a physical border and controls on the island of Ireland, the UK and EU drafted the Northern Ireland Protocol, which moves the trade border to the Irish Sea.

Violent riots in Belfast in response to Northern Ireland Protocol (Image: Getty Images)

There are concerns that establishing a physical border or enacting border controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland would spark political unrest.

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Why does Britain want to scrap the protocol?

The UK agreed to the Northern Ireland Protocol in 2019 but has since indicated that it would scrap it.

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The EU proposed changes to the protocol in October 2021, but the UK government believes these new changes will make the situation worse.

In a statement, the UK government has expressed concern over the EU’s proposals, claiming that it will “take everyday items off the shelves”.

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They also claimed that under the newly proposed protocol rules, “posting a parcel to Northern Ireland would require more than 50 fields of information for customs declaration”.

In a May 10 statement, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the government would “take action to stabilize the situation in Northern Ireland if no solutions can be found”.

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A source close to Truss told BBC News they may now be looking to implement national legislation that would essentially scrap parts of the protocol.

Why are unionists in Northern Ireland against protocol?

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DUP to make statement in Stormont after May election (Image: Getty Images)

Unionists in Northern Ireland oppose the protocol as they see it as undermining Northern Ireland’s connection with the UK.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) described the protocol in its party manifesto as “an existential threat” to the future of Northern Ireland.

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In February 2022, the DUP’s First Minister, Paul Givan, withdrew from the Assembly and collapsed the Northern Ireland executive on power-sharing over his concerns about the protocol.

In the last election in May 2022, in which the DUP finished second to Sinn Fein, it also refused to return to the executive branch.

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Under the Rules of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Executive cannot function without a First Minister and Deputy First Minister representing the Unionist and Nationalist communities.

The DUP refused to name one, citing the Northern Ireland Protocol as the reason.

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DUP leader Jeffrey Dondalson said he had “reaffirmed our position that we cannot nominate an executive until decisive action on protocol is taken” during a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnston.

What did the EU say?

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The EU has stated that solutions can be found without completely abolishing the protocol.

They proposed changes to the protocol in October 2021, but these were rejected by the UK government.

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The EU’s chief negotiator, Maroš Šefčovič, reiterated that this is an essential section of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and “renegotiation is not an option”.

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