On 14 February, details on how the EU intends to approach the Northern Irish protocol were shared following a document leak to RTE News. The EU will ‘monitor’ the extent to which EU law continues to operate in Northern Ireland even after the UK is fully transitioned out of the EU and, should the UK fail to put checks and controls on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the EU may take the UK to the European Court of Justice.
A working paper circulated among Member States by the Commission describes the EU’s plans for implementing the Northern Irish Protocol, focussing on oversight procedures and details of necessary alignment.
In order to ensure the Protocol is followed, the document plans for the creation of ‘IT systems and databases’ to track goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It also plans for a Joint Committee – composed of EU Commissioners and British ministers – and a Specialised Committee to oversee the implementation. The Joint Committee will be able to determine which goods may benefit from a tariff exemption but may not negotiate on what checks and controls happen.
An additional five specialised committees are planned for the following areas of concern: the British base in Cyprus, citizens’ rights, the exit bill, Gibraltar and other ‘separation provisions’.
The document also addresses the details of alignment, maintaining that Northern Ireland will ‘remain aligned to the relevant EU rules’, including ‘customs, sanitary and phytosanitary rules, regulatory compliance, state aid, VAT and excise rules’.
In order to keep administrative costs and procedures to a minimum, the UK should seek a zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade agreement. While customs formalities and regulatory checks are inevitable, tariff obligations can be avoided through a comprehensive free trade agreement. The application of tariffs to goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would disproportionally harm small businesses, particularly those located in Northern Ireland, and could prevent them from trading within the UK’s own borders.