The European Union (EU) could go as far as to terminate its post-Brexit trade deal with the UK if it does not uphold its commitments over Northern Ireland. The EU agreed earlier this month to enter renegotiations of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which puts numerous checks on goods passing through the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland protocol was agreed by Boris Johnson and the EU as part of the original withdrawal deal signed in January last year.
It was designed to prevent the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland while keeping the province effectively within the EU’s customs union and single market.
Northern Ireland currently remains in the EU’s single market, with the customs border created in the Irish Sea.
The UK and the EU are currently in negotiations after the bloc put forward a series of proposals aimed at relieving months of deadlock between the two sides.
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The EU’s proposals would slash most inspections between the territories, and ease imports of goods including chilled meats, sausages and medicines – which has been dubbed the “sausage wars” in recent months.
However, the offer made by the EU fails to address key demands being made by the UK, including the removal of the oversight of the European Court of Justice from Northern Ireland.
The British Government has blamed the Northern Ireland Protocol for disrupting trade and inflaming political unrest in the area.
Should the UK follow through on such a threat, the EU could justify terminating one or all trade agreements by upholding the fact it had insisted that an agreement on the situation in Northern Ireland was a necessary condition for any trade accord.
Boris Johnson and Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, have insisted that the EU must agree to drop any role for the court.
But senior figures have privately raised the prospect of a compromise.
The compromise would allow a limited role for the European Courts of Justice in interpreting the application of EU law in Northern Ireland.
This would lead to an independent arbitration panel, with the ECJ asked to interpret narrow matters of EU law as a last resort if dispute resolution failed.