Despite Northern Ireland being largely spared of Brexit-related shortages including food and carbon dioxide needed for producing soft drinks thanks to the Northern Ireland Protocol, unionist parties have continued to rail against it. In particular, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has threatened to pull his ministers out of the Northern Ireland Executive, thus collapsing it and reverting Northern Ireland back to direct British rule.
In a sign that unionist pressure has been mounting in the mind of Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister commented that issues related to the implementation of the protocol “can’t go on forever.” In addition, Brexit Minister David Frost has argued that the conditions required to trigger Article 16, which would essentially tear up sections of the Protocol, have been met.
Such statements have been met with concern by US President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with the latter commenting that the possibility of a new trade deal between the US and UK would be greatly damaged “if there is destruction of the Good Friday accords”. For his part, Biden expressed strong support for the protocol this week, saying “I would not at all like to see, nor I might add would many of my Republican colleagues like to see, a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland.”
This has prompted anger from unionist politicians, and Jeffrey Donaldson has penned an open letter to Pelosi, claiming that the Good Friday Agreement was being “sacrificed” to facilitate a de facto border across the Irish Sea and that “One either supports the principles of the Belfast [or Good Friday] Agreement or one supports the NI protocol, but it is not possible to sustain support for both.” It is worth noting that the DUP opposed the Good Friday Agreement when it was signed in 1998.
The US position on the protocol has been met with dismissive comments from certain British politicians, including Environment Secretary George Eustice, who said that “He [Biden] is probably at the moment just reading the headlines, reading what the EU is saying, reading what Ireland might be saying, which is that they would like the Northern Ireland Protocol to work in the way the EU envisage.”
This has been met with criticism from Labour MP and shadow Northern Ireland secretary Lousie Haigh, commenting that “It is ludicrous that ministers in a government which openly admits the impact of the protocol was unexpected, and promised it would mean no checks whatsoever, now question whether others understand its complexity.”
In the midst of growing tension between the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol’s implementation, Boris Johnson claimed that Dutch PM, Mark Rutte, offered to mediate between the two parties in order to reach a resolution on the stand-off. However, this claim was swiftly disputed by Dutch sources who clarified that Rutte had simply advised Johnson to be pragmatic in his dealings with the European Commission.
This latest scandal and headache could not have arrived at a worse time for Johnson, who has been battling worsening poll results and the diplomatic fallout over the signing of the AUKUS agreement with the US and Australia. While the EU appears to be willing to offer some concessions and flexibility over the Northern Ireland Protocol’s implementation, Johnson’s aim to fundamentally change the protocol is extremely unlikely to occur, which all but guarantees that both Conservative and especially unionist politicians will have to get used to living under the present trade conditions.