The author is the Secretary of State for Brexit
At this time last year, when I reached an agreement with the EU on our free trade agreement, I hope that 2021 will make the new relationship between the UK and the EU work. Away from the noise, many do run well. But one problem is still difficult. I manage it most of the year-the Northern Ireland Agreement.
In fact, a year ago, no one could predict how it would develop in 2021. We saw the European Union attempting to impose a vaccine export ban on Ireland’s land border in January; they insisted on interpreting the protocol as providing a normal EU external border through the central part of the UK; lawsuits against us for violations may have now been submitted to the European Court of Justice; politics Turbulence, including the long-term departure of Northern Ireland’s chief minister, Arlene Foster.
Economically, the supply chain began to change, and trade began to shift. Although we pledged to invest 500 million pounds to make the agreement work, we have seen reduced supply of goods, discontinued production of medicines and rising consumer prices.
In the summer, the practical and political difficulties arising from the agreement are obvious to all.Fortunately, we managed to stabilize the situation by introducing in July Order paper, Solve the problem comprehensively and comprehensively.
We also decided at the time that if we can achieve it, the best way is to obtain the outcome of the negotiations, rather than using the safeguards contained in Article 16 of the Protocol. Since then, we have been in detailed talks with the EU on the way forward, including the EU’s own limited proposal in October.
Unfortunately, we did not make the progress I hoped. In addition to medicines, we will look at the EU proposals carefully and positively. Now that we have them, what Brussels has on the table is not enough to reduce the burden or cover all the problems faced by the people of Northern Ireland.
Considering that ties with other parts of the UK are far more important to Northern Ireland’s economy than its ties with Ireland, the cumbersome customs arrangements for goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland need to be completely changed.
The simplest solution is to make substantially different arrangements for goods that the parties agree to stay in the UK and those that will not stay in the UK, and manage any risks that arise in a cooperative manner. The EU proposal did not do this, and our expert analysis does not support the ambitious public statement made for them when they were published.
Similarly, Northern Ireland’s state aid rules need to reflect the reality that since the signing of the protocol, we have agreed to new subsidy control rules in our free trade agreement and established a new and strict domestic system. The rules of Northern Ireland should be developed to reflect this.
A solution must be found in governance issues-the undemocratic way EU law applies in Northern Ireland, and the role of the European Court of Justice. I know that sometimes people think this is an ideological requirement. However, if the European Commission can allow the European Court of Justice to judge any of our actions, then no solution will work, as happened in March. Such an immediate reaction is not the right way to achieve a sustainable solution in Northern Ireland. In any case, it is obviously unfair and unreasonable to resolve the dispute between us in one of the courts.
We are more willing to find a comprehensive solution for these and all other difficulties. However, given the urgency, we are ready to consider a provisional agreement covering the most acute issues-trade frictions, subsidy control and the European Court of Justice. We have proposed various possible ways to move forward, but so far we have not reached a consensus-even on the content of the interim agreement.
The situation is still very problematic. An agreement designed to support the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement is now breaking it. Northern Ireland institutions are clearly facing serious risks.
The latest opinion polls last week showed that 78% of Northern Irish people want at least some changes to the current arrangements.
As long as there is no agreed solution, the safeguards of Article 16 will still exist. They may be the only way to solve the problem. However, if possible, it is better to find a solution through negotiation. The time is short. Therefore, if we are to achieve results that benefit everyone in Northern Ireland, we need to restart negotiations with a new sense of urgency in the new year. Britain will work hard for this.