Government announce plans make changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol

20 May 2022

The government has announced plans to introduce legislation to unilaterally make changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.  It is unclear when this legislation will be put before Parliament and whether it would pass, given that it would involve a breach of international law (although the government view is that it does not).  If put into law, it is also uncertain if its provisions would be applied depending on the likely effects on international trade.  It is stated that the proposed legislation would remove any customs processes for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, unless clearly intended for the EU market.  It will also allow businesses to choose to follow either EU or UK regulations with regard to the NI market.  The proposed legislation involves no changes to how UK businesses currently move goods as there are standstill arrangements currently in place.  The EU has made it clear that it views any such unilateral changes as a breach of the international treaty of which the NI Protocol is part and that all measures available could be taken as a consequence, which could include a reversion to the “no-deal” trading position with the EU that we strove to avoid in the lead up to the agreement of the UK-EU TCA.  As noted, it remains to be seen what may be negotiated between the UK and EU in relation to NI trade and whether this legislation will go ahead or be used in practice.