New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Election 2024
  2. Brexit
21 July 2021

Boris Johnson only has himself to blame for the problems caused by the Northern Ireland protocol

The problem is not the protocol but the UK government’s failure to offer a workable alternative.  

By Stephen Bush

The British government will again seek to reopen the Northern Ireland border protocol as the end of transitional arrangement in September and, with it, a further thickening of the sea border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, comes closer into view.  

The United Kingdom is considering three options, in ascending order of severity: threaten to activate Article 16, which allows the UK (or the EU) to suspend the arrangement; actually trigger Article 16; or rip up the protocol entirely.  

But the policy problem for the British government is that the current difficulties being experienced aren’t a sign of the protocol malfunctioning, but of it working as planned. To maintain the open border on the island of Ireland, you have two options: a) continued regulatory alignment on goods and phytosanitary standards between the UK and the EU, which the Conservative Party has consistently rejected, or b) a thicker regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. It’s hard to reach an alternative arrangement when you have already ruled out all the available options: that one of the mooted solutions, per the FT, is an “honesty box”-type arrangement is a sign of that.

The British government’s other problem is that the EU27 don’t want to reopen the protocol and neither does the Biden administration. But Boris Johnson needs both the EU and the US on side if the UK is to host a successful climate conference in November and to advance its foreign policy goals more broadly.

[See also: What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?]

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
<strong>The future of private credit</strong>
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce