The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will meet, this Monday, in London, with the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, to discuss the changes in the post-Brexit protocol of Northern Ireland, announced the two political leaders.
In a joint statement, the two leaders say that “they agreed to meet to continue their work in order to find practical and shared solutions to the complex challenges surrounding the protocol of Ireland and Northern Ireland”.
Three years after the United Kingdom left the European Union (“Brexit”), the Northern Ireland protocol is the main subject of tension between London and Brussels.
On Saturday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said talks between the UK and the European Union (EU) on post-Brexit customs controls in Northern Ireland were close to being concluded.
“It is true that the agreement is not yet concluded, but I think we are getting closer to its conclusion”, declared Leo Varadkar to the Irish television RTE.
This protocol, negotiated at the same time as the “Brexit” treaty, keeps Northern Ireland — which has Britain’s only land border with the EU — in the European single market, while providing for customs controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The text aims to preserve the integrity of the European single market and the peace agreement of 1998, which put an end to 30 years of conflict on the island of Ireland, preventing the return of a rigid customs border between the Republic of Ireland (a member of the EU and occupies a large part of the island) and Northern Ireland (a region under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and which occupies the remaining part of the island of Ireland, to the northeast).
The UK decided to legislate to unilaterally reverse the protocol’s customs provisions, prompting the EU to start new negotiations in 2022.
London calls on the EU to facilitate customs controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The Democratic Unionist Party, the largest of Northern Ireland’s unionist political parties, opposes any application of European law in the region.
On February 17, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak admitted that there was still “work to be done” to reach an agreement with Brussels on Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade status.
Sunak said it was necessary to “find solutions to the practical problems the protocol is causing for families and businesses in Northern Ireland, as well as addressing the democratic deficit”.
The Northern Ireland Protocol is part of the United Kingdom’s Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union (EU) and represents an effort to protect the peace process in that British province.
The protocol keeps free trade between the region and the Republic of Ireland, which shares the only land border between the UK and the EU, and leaves Northern Ireland subject to European rules.
This led to the application of additional customs controls at Northern Irish ports to certain goods arriving from the UK, creating a trade border in the Irish Sea that was criticized by unionists, supporters of Northern Ireland’s status as a British territory.