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Ulster - Brexit

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak struck a new deal with the European Union on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland and he said it would pave the way for a new chapter in London's relationship with the bloc. Standing alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at a news conference in Windsor 27 February 2023, Sunak said the two sides had agreed to ease trade rules for the British province and give its lawmakers more control over the laws they have to follow. "I'm pleased to report that we have now made a decisive breakthrough," Sunak said, adding that they had agreed to change the original deal for Northern Ireland, known as the protocol, to create the "New Windsor Framework".

Ireland's foreign minister said the lining up by Britain of new laws that would effectively override parts of a deal with the European Union on post-Brexit trade to Northern Ireland was of "great concern." "I deeply regret the decision of the British government to introduce legislation in the coming weeks... The path chosen is of great concern," Simon Coveney said after his British counterpart Liz Truss set out the plans on 17 May 2022.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said 16 May 2022 her party had a "fairly tough" meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday in which they told him taking unilateral action over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland would be wrong. McDonald said Johnson was not clear with her about the details of proposed domestic legislation which would effectively disapply parts of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol. "We have said directly to him that the proposed unilateral act of legislating at Westminster is wrong. It seems to us absolutely extraordinary that the British government would propose to legislate to break the law," McDonald told reporters following a meeting with Johnson in Northern Ireland. "We've had no straight answers really from the British Prime Minister."

On 15 June 2022 the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against the United Kingdom for not complying with significant parts of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland. Despite repeated calls on the UK government to implement the Protocol, it has failed to do so. The aim of these infringement proceedings is to restore compliance with the Protocol in a number of key areas where the UK hasn't been implementing it properly - ultimately with the goal of protecting the health and safety of EU citizens. At the same time, the Commission provided additional details on the possible solutions it put forward in October 2021 to facilitate the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Nearly 56 percent of people in Northern Ireland voted in the June 2016 referendum for Britain to remain in the European Union. But the government in Belfast was split: Sinn Fein advocated remaining; the DUP spent almost half a million pounds backing the Leave campaign.

As of 01 February 2020, the United Kingdom was no longer part of the EU. Hardcore Brexiteers celebrated noisily in London and other places, but small groups gathered at the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic for mutual consolation. One phrase that was persistently mentioned by many revealed a side-effect London did not count on: an increased call for Irish reunification.

“I’ve been born and reared along the border,” said Declan Fearon, a man in his late sixties, and chairperson of the lobby group Border Communities Against Brexit (BCAB). “I lived through all the excesses of the Troubles that came about because of how the border divided the community here. I know what it has been like. And I’m here to ensure that this legacy is never left to my grandchildren,” he added.

Under the revised Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement, that was published by the European Commission on 17 October, 2019, articles seem to indicate a border between the EU and the UK would be positioned north of Northern Ireland, eliminating fears for a “hard border” on the island.

Northern Ireland polled more europhilic than other other region in the UK before the 23 June 2016 Brexit referendum. With the results in, its Remain vote of 55.7 per cent was the third strongest in the country. There were already calls for independence in response to the nation being taken out of the EU against its will. Irish nationalist leaders in Northern Ireland also called for a poll on leaving the United Kingdom and uniting with Ireland. Declan Kearney, Sinn Fein's national chairman, delivered a strongly-worded statement after the referendum in which he stated English voters had "dragged Northern Ireland out of the EU". "English votes have overturned the democratic will of Northern Ireland." The party would now press for the calling of a border poll under the under the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, he said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny had warned throughout the campaign that there could be a return of border controls but Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers, who campaigned for a 'Leave' vote, denied this. The future of the Common Travel Area (CTA) was in question in light of the UK referendum. Ireland had a common travel area with Britain since the foundation of the State. In practice, Irish citizens are treated the same as the British for issues like social welfare, work and pensions.

Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Enda Kenny has warned that “Common membership of the EU project is part of the glue holding the peace process together.” Intelligence sharing between Belfast and Dublin and cross-border policing would be disrupted by Brexit, he fears. An exit from the EU could well see a dangerous revival of angry Catholic nationalist sentiment leading to a resurgence of terrorism and conflict, warn analysts.

Prominent Northern Ireland businessman Len O’Hagan warned leaving the EU would prompt a terrible mess on the island of Ireland requiring, “new legislation for UK citizens living and working in the Republic of Ireland. New legislation for people from the Republic living and working in the north. New legislation to cover a huge raft of laws covering everything from mobile roaming charges to working time directives and agreements with the Republic on electricity, security and a raft of other key partnerships.”

Northern Ireland would lose economically more from leaving the EU than any other part of the UK. Sixty-one percent of goods exported form Northern Ireland go to the EU. And 87 percent of farm income in mostly rural Northern Ireland comes from EU subsidies. Aside from the economic arguments, an exit from the EU risks undermining the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland that ended decades-long civil conflict between pro-British Unionist Protestants and nationalist Catholics. EU funds have helped fund the peace.

Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, and many fear that the UK's exit could pose significant economic and political problems, especially around the circuitous 300-mile border long border with the Irish Republic. Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has called for the whole island of Ireland to be treated as a single unit by the European Union. This would ensure the freedom of goods and people on the island and avoid a border for customs or immigration. But Foster - whose party backed Leave - has rejected calls for an all-Ireland forum on Brexit and played down fears of post-Brexit problems. Critics have accused the DUP leader of failing to appreciate the potential risks faced by Northern Ireland.

The rift between the coalition partners seems so deep that even fresh elections are unlikely to solve the problem. With the number of seats in the assembly decreasing from 108 to 90, (a move that has been on the agenda for some time in an effort to reduce the strain on public finances) and smaller parties hoping to take advantage of widespread discontent with the status quo in Belfast, the election campaign could be a bitter one with little sign of how a government can be formed at the end of it.

Ireland wanted a provision in the Brexit deal allowing Northern Ireland to rejoin the European Union if it ever unites with Ireland, Prime Minister Enda Kenny said in a joint press conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on 23 February 2017. The provision would echo language in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that allows Northern Ireland to join Ireland if a majority of people from both countries support it. "If at some future time, whenever that might be, that it [reunification] were to occur that Northern Ireland would have ease of access to join as a member of the European Union… we want that language to be inserted into the negotiated treaty, the negotiated outcome," Kenny stated.

Kenny said a hard border would be against Ireland’s national interests, and pledged that the government would fight any attempt to recreate one. The European Union does not want a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland following Brexit, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said. "We don't want to have hard borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic. We want the Good Friday agreement not being put under risks and we want land borders being as open as possible," Juncker told reporters after the meeting with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein won the most seats in Northern Ireland's Assembly for the first time on 06 May 2022. The party supports reuniting the British territory with the Republic of Ireland. As vote counting neared completion late Saturday, the BBC reported that the party had captured at least 27 of the 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The pro-Britain Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was set for 24. The Alliance Party, which is not affiliated with either of the two main parties but aims to bridge partisan differences, was in third, with 17. The nonaffiliated Alliance Party seemed likely to drag out government negotiations. This is because the Good Friday Agreement does not provide for a strong neutral party in Northern Ireland's power-sharing system. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Alliance would like to reform the entire agreement.

Under a mandatory power-sharing system created by the 1998 peace agreement that ended decades of Catholic-Protestant conflict, the jobs of first minister and deputy first minister are split between the biggest unionist party and the largest nationalist one. Both posts must be filled for a government to function, but the Democratic Unionist Party has suggested it might not serve under a Sinn Fein first minister. The DUP has also said it will refuse to join a new government unless there are major changes to post-Brexit border arrangements known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Those post-Brexit rules, which took effect after Britain left the European Union, have imposed customs and border checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. The arrangement was designed to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, a key pillar of the peace process.

But the rules angered many unionists, who maintain that the new checks have created a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. that undermines their British identity. In February, the DUP’s Paul Givan resigned as first minister in protest against the arrangements, triggering a a fresh political crisis in Northern Ireland.

The three top parties are unlikely to agree on much. The nationalist Sinn Fein is pushing for a referendum and has no interest in getting rid of the divisive Northern Ireland protocol. The DUP supports exactly the opposite. The Alliance wants to do away with the dualistic system that favors both other parties.

So, despite Sinn Fein's pending historic victory, Belfast is likely headed toward political stalemate. Such an uncertain situation is not unusual in Northern Ireland, however. The constitution already provides a solution: If the government is incapable of acting, London can impose direct rule in the meantime.

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Page last modified: 16-03-2023 18:49:46 ZULU