The Northern Ireland Protocol. The ‘Backstop’

The most contentious part of the draft withdrawal agreement signed off by the Cabinet last night is the Northern Ireland Protocol.

This is helpfully explained by the Commission’s press release of 14 November, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-18-6423_en.htm

Highlighted in italics are those elements that are likely to cause the DUP to vote against the Draft Withdrawal Agreement when it comes before the House of Commons.

“If an agreement on the future EU-UK relationship is not applicable by 31 December 2020, the EU and the UK have agreed that a backstop solution will apply until such a time as a subsequent agreement is in place.

Alternatively, the UK may, before 1 July 2020, request an extension of the transition period. Such a request would be dealt with under article 132 of the Withdrawal Agreement and must therefore be agreed by the Joint Committee.

In the scenario where the “backstop solution” would apply, this would mean the following in practice:

  • There will be a single EU-UK customs territory. This will avoid the need for tariffs, quotas or checks on rules of origin between the EU and the UK.
  • The EU and the UK have agreed on a set of measures to ensure that there is a level playing field between the EU and the UK.
  • The Union’s Customs Code(UCC), which sets out, inter alia, the provisions for releasing products into free circulation within the EU, will continue to apply to Northern Ireland. This will ensure that Northern Irish businesses will not face restrictions when placing products on the EU’s Single Market.
  • The UK in respect of Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of rules that are related to the EU’s Single Market and indispensable for avoiding a hard border: legislation on goods, sanitary rules for veterinary controls (“SPS rules”), rules on agricultural production/marketing, VAT and excise in respect of goods, and state aid rules.

Is there any review mechanism foreseen? Can the EU or the UK ask to stop applying the backstop in whole or in part?

If at any time after the transition period, the EU or the UK considers that this Protocol, in whole or in part, is no longer necessary, it may notify the other party, setting out its reasons. The Joint Committee [as established in Article 164 of the Withdrawal Agreement] will consider the notification and may seek an opinion from institutions created by the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement 1998. Following discussions in the Joint Committee, the EU and the UK may decide jointly that the Protocol, in whole or in part, is no longer necessary to achieve its objectives.”

The UK would be unable unilaterally to withdraw from the Backstop.

During the Backstop the UK would be unable to implement any trade agreements it had negotiated with non-EU states. Another red line for some Members of Parliament.

 

 

 

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