Why Northern Ireland isn’t ‘done’ for Brexit

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By Creative Media News

  • Boris Johnson’s Brexit pledge faces Northern Ireland complexities
  • Challenges persist with pharmaceuticals and border checks
  • Stormont votes highlight ongoing Brexit influence in Northern Ireland

Boris Johnson competed in the 2019 UK general election under the platform “Get Brexit Done” and emerged victorious. 

It was a wager that voters, weary of years of Brexit drama, desired the government to reach a compromise and exit the EU for good. 

Boasting a substantial majority, Mr. Johnson successfully marginalized the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and negotiated an agreement that effectively maintained Northern Ireland’s membership in the European Union’s single market for goods. 

That may have been sufficient for the majority of British voters to recognize that Brexit was essentially over. 

However, the sea border persisted as a determining factor in Northern Ireland politics, ultimately culminating in the downfall of devolution. 

Given that the restoration of devolved governance was the result of the Windsor Framework and a subsequent side agreement with the DUP, one could argue that Brexit is also “completed” in Northern Ireland. 

However, this week’s events demonstrate that such an argument is difficult to sustain. 

Brexit, Northern Ireland, and the single market

A committee of the House of Lords initially drew attention to the substantial unresolved matters concerning veterinary medicines. 

In Northern Ireland, pharmaceuticals have been one of the most challenging post-Brexit commercial issues. 

The reason for Northern Ireland’s continued participation in the European Union’s single market for pharmaceuticals is that it continues to obtain the majority of its medications from British distributors and manufacturers. 

As stipulated in the Northern Ireland Protocol, medications transported from the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland would have been subject to retesting and relabelling to comply with European Union standards. 

The European Union ultimately reached a consensus on significant modifications to human medicines. However, in the case of veterinary medicines, the costly retesting and relabeling requirements remain, along with the possibility that they will be recalled from circulation. 

Historiography of Brexit indicates that a resolution will inevitably be achieved regarding this matter; however, that will necessitate considerable negotiation. 

There was no indication in the Lord’s report that negotiations have commenced as of yet, and Lord Jay, chair of the committee, speculated that they might not occur until after the European and British elections

The difficulty posed by “unrestricted” access

The long-awaited implementation of physical inspections for EU agrifood products entering the United Kingdom commenced this week. 

Nevertheless, for the time being, merchandise originating from the Republic of Ireland remains exempt from these inspections. 

This is primarily because the Irish Sea port facilities in Wales are not yet operational and are not expected to be finished until the early months of the following year. 

The inquiry pertains to how controls can be implemented on goods originating from the Republic of Ireland and entering Great Britain while ensuring that the “unfettered” movement of goods from Northern Ireland remains uninterrupted. 

Northern Ireland goods’ unrestricted access was a fundamental Brexit commitment made by the government. 

The Qualifying NI Goods Regulations codify this assurance by stipulating that the majority of goods that are freely available for use in Northern Ireland meet the criteria to be granted unrestricted access. 

Increased standards have been established for sustenance and animal feed. 

Enforcement faces its greatest obstacle in determining how to regulate non-qualifying goods without impeding the unrestricted flow of qualifying goods. 

For instance, there is no restriction on the movement of goods from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland; the United Kingdom government has declared that it will not inspect shipments from Northern Ireland at Cairnryan in Scotland. 

Therefore, how will illicit Irish products traversing this route be detected? 

The proposal entails spot checks; however, the specific enforcement strategy for this segment of the United Kingdom’s frontier following Brexit remains uncertain at present. 

How Stormont’s Approval Will Sustain Brexit 

This week, a vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly demonstrated that Brexit will continue to be an enduring aspect of Northern Ireland politics

It concerned content requirements for organic pet food, an esoteric regulation. 

Rather than being a regulation formulated by a Stormont assembly member or minister, it originated from the Brussels regulatory system and became an EU law. 

It was up for a vote in the assembly as to whether or not it should be incorporated into the body of EU law that regulates the sale and manufacture of products in Northern Ireland. 

Practically speaking, it was not particularly controversial, as the regulation merely synchronizes UK and EU regulations. 

The prevailing sentiment among the unionists who cast voted that supporting the regulation would prevent further divisions between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. 

That means the requisite cross-community support has been received for the regulation, and it will be implemented. 

On an equally abstruse area of regulation, the first of these “applicability motions” failed to receive cross-community support. 

At this time, the government of the United Kingdom must determine whether it will negotiate this with the European Union or impose the regulation without unionist support. 

These applicability motions will circulate on a conveyor belt so long as Northern Ireland remains a member of the single market for commodities and the rest of the United Kingdom does not.

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 They can generate political discord: among nationalists and unionists in the assembly, between local parties and the administration of the United Kingdom, and between the United Kingdom and the European Union. 

The debate that took place this week also highlighted the ongoing possibility of intra-unionist tensions

Jim Allister, the leader of the TUV and a vote against the motion, condemned the DUP’s stance and referred to “notable absentees” from that party’s benches. 

The new EU law was supported by approximately fifteen DUP assembly members; however, nine DUP members were absent during the vote. 

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