Getting to the nub of the NI Protocol and the deeply problematic East West market…

It is disheartening that an issue as important as the Protocol has fallen into the wearisome tropes of identity politics. Anger, gracelessness, and rhetoric trumping evidence-based approaches and shared solutions. Ultimately, we should all be concerned that megaphone tactics both bolster disesteem and prevent a proper dialogue about economic futures.

Those from within nationalism and republicanism point out, as they smirk, that the British government and the DUP painted themselves into a corner. There is no doubt that the Protocol was a can kicking exercise by the former.

However, when negotiating the Protocol the UK Government acted in good faith. Article 2 of the Protocol led to changes in the Northern Ireland Act to uphold EU and GFA laws regarding protections against discrimination.

‘Perfidious Albion’ scoped out and enlarged the remit, via Article 11, for North-South co-operation. There are now 149 areas of cooperation to be maintained and advanced. But I hear no applause from the smirkers.

Process, not an event

Meanwhile, people from pro-union backgrounds who oppose the Protocol have their reading of it wrong. Northern Ireland has not been annexed and remains part of the UK state under law.  The UK government exercised its appropriate constitutional power, to sign, then endorse, an agreement with the EU.

Neither Articles 16 and 18 are ways ‘out of the Protocol’. That is an entirely incorrect description. The Protocol is not an event but instead a process. It is fluid and can be adjusted to take account of deleterious economic and societal consequences.

The open border on the island of Ireland are critical and important achievements but the market value of imports of goods into Northern Ireland from Ireland was estimated by NISRA at £2.3 billion. Market value regarding East-West (GB to Northern Ireland) movement of goods at £10.4 billion is nearly 5 times higher.

When the Protocol was being designed the EU came to look at the border and summed that to protect the peace process it must, rightly so, remain open. The EU is now stating that they are negotiating to protect the peace process which if followed logically must mean minimizing damage to the GB to Northern Ireland market.

Jobs matter to everyone

If jobs mean peace then they should consider that around 60% of jobs are  in businesses with GB purchasers. This compares to c 40% of jobs related to imports from Ireland. This is not an ideological point it is one, in societal terms, of mutual concern.

Present negotiations focus upon Northern Ireland Purchases and Imports from GB. That £10.4 billion is 0.1% of the £11trillion that constitutes the EU’s estimated GDP. If you estimate that 20% of that value is ‘goods at risk’ the percentage share falls to 0.02%.

That is a miniscule amount in terms of the EU’s GDP but purchases from GB equate to 81.2% of all imports of goods by Northern Ireland businesses from across these islands. Ultimately, risk mitigation around 0.02% looks like over-engineering.

The EU talks about protecting the peace process and GFA but appear to insist upon a rules-based approach upon the predominate form of the Northern Ireland economy, and I say that as a Remainer.

The EU has to be cognizant of the impact of rules as opposed to utilizing trust if it wishes to remove societal and economic instability. The UK government should have been cognizant and not kicked the problem down the road.

If the question is one of risk then the starting point in analyzing that issue is one of scale. Northern Ireland is on an island. It has a limited air, road and port facilities and the Protocol has within it the capacity to monitor the E-W movement of goods.

The EU has to understand infrastructural scale regarding the potential abuse of the movement of goods. If you think of infrastructure as a kettle there is only so much water you can pour in. There is also the question of intention to move goods into Ireland or the EU via Northern Ireland.

Tiny markets have tiny impacts

Given the NI market is small it would make common sense to argue that the movement of goods from GB would have a known or generalizable scale. Therefore, any significant growth in the movement of goods to transit through to the EU would be noticeable and given infrastructure and other cost unattractive.

Movement of goods data from GB  is a better way to monitor if GB businesses are using Northern Ireland as a gateway to the EU as opposed. If the veterinary/SPS agreement is for the EU related to their long-established positions on dynamic alignment and equivalence, then how does that position square with protecting the peace process if it causes economic and societal instability?

The GFA is bespoke and speaks to parity of esteem and mutual respect. Over engineered approaches, undermine the nature of achieving bespoke agreements. Fundamentally, if you put rules and regulations into the machine of trade law what emerged is identity politics.  Protections under Articles 2 and 11, which I support, have to have a paralleled version, in this case concessions over UK-EU veterinary/SPS agreement.

A careful reading of the GFA shows that it was based upon advancing protections from each set of identity politics. Ultimately, any dilution, hindrance or impediment to the GB to NI economy when the North to South relationship is protected will continue to undermine the objectives of the GFA. Protecting the GFA cannot be rhetorical.

YMCA -RonSombilonGallery IMG_0350” by SOMBILON STUDIOS – is licensed under CC BY-ND

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