The withdrawal agreement between the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) has been a contentious issue since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016. One of the most pressing issues within the withdrawal agreement is the status of Northern Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, ended decades of violent conflict in Northern Ireland. It stipulated that the border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (an EU member state) should remain open and frictionless. This was made possible by both the UK and Ireland being EU members at the time.
However, with the UK`s decision to leave the EU, there was a risk that a hard border would be re-established between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This was a concern for many reasons, including the potential for renewed violence and the impact on trade and the economy.
To avoid a hard border, the withdrawal agreement includes a special arrangement for Northern Ireland. It states that Northern Ireland will remain aligned with certain EU rules and regulations, particularly in relation to goods and agriculture. This means that some checks will need to be conducted on goods crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The agreement also includes a backstop provision, which would come into effect if no other solution is found to avoid a hard border. The backstop would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU, ensuring that there are no tariffs or quotas on goods traded between the UK and the EU. This would apply to the whole of the UK, but Northern Ireland would also continue to follow certain EU regulations to avoid a hard border.
The backstop provision has proved particularly controversial, with some claiming that it would keep the UK tied to the EU indefinitely. However, the withdrawal agreement includes a provision stating that the backstop is intended to be temporary and that both the UK and the EU are committed to finding a permanent solution.
Overall, the withdrawal agreement`s provisions for Northern Ireland aim to protect the peace process and avoid a hard border. While there are concerns about the backstop and the impact on the wider UK-EU relationship, the Northern Ireland issue remains a crucial part of the withdrawal agreement.