Last week, the U.K. reached a new agreement with the European Union aimed at resolving their long-running dispute over trade rules for Northern Ireland under the Brexit divorce deal signed between the two sides in January 2020. The new deal put to rest London’s threat to unilaterally abrogate the 2020 agreement, but it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to satisfy unionists in Northern Ireland as well as hard-line Brexiteers in London.
The dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol—the part of the Brexit divorce deal affecting Northern Ireland—has paralyzed Belfast’s devolved power-sharing government since February 2022. At the time, the main unionist party, the Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP, withdrew due to objections over the original terms of the protocol, which created custom checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain. The DUP subsequently refused to form a new government after elections in May unless the protocol was renegotiated, arguing that the existing arrangements undermined the union and pushed Northern Ireland closer toward reunification with the Republic of Ireland.
The arrangements established by the Brexit divorce agreement were designed to preclude the erection of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which would violate the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. But with some customs border necessary to keep products that contravene EU standards from entering the Republic of Ireland—and from there moving onward to any destination in the European single market—someone was bound to be disappointed in the end.