The arrangement is designed to keep the Irish land border open—but details of how it will work remain up in the airby Jess Sargeant / January 16, 2020 / Leave a comment
The UK will be leaving the European Union on 31st January, but as our latest Institute for Government report sets out, there’s still a lot to do before Brexit is “done.”
By February the focus will be turning to the complex and contentious talks on the future UK-EU relationship, but the UK government still needs to meet the commitments it’s signed up to in the Withdrawal Agreement. One of the most difficult tasks will be implementing the Northern Ireland protocol—the special arrangements aimed at avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Unlike Theresa May’s “backstop,” which would have been UK-wide, Boris Johnson’s version of the protocol will apply to Northern Ireland only, introducing a trade border between GB and NI.
Northern Ireland will formally remain part of the UK customs territory, but will continue to align with the EU on specific regulations related to trade and follow EU customs rules. Goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland deemed to be “at risk” of moving on into the rest of the EU will be subject to the EU tariff. Some forms of checks will almost certainly be necessary. There will be new obligations, albeit much less significant, for trade going the other way.
The prime minister has committed to not extending the transition period beyond 31st December 2020, which means these arrangements will need to be in place for the same deadline. The timescale is very tight, if not unworkable.
Many of the details of exactly how the arrangements will work are still TBC. The Withdrawal Agreement defers major decisions to the Joint Committee—the body responsible for overseeing the implementation of the agreement—including deciding the criteria for which goods are “at risk” and the implementation of VAT provisions. This will only be set up after the UK formally leaves the EU on 31st January.
The extent to which regulatory processes will be required will also depend on the degree of alignment between the UK and the EU. This will not become clear until a trade deal is concluded, which could be just weeks before the new arrangements come in to force.
Despite this uncertainty, the UK government will need to start working…