Azeem Ibrahim OBE
New Brexit deal shows value of negotiation
Years have passed and a deal has, on a number of occasions, been despaired of, but Britain and the EU have finally reached an agreement over the future of Northern Ireland.
There were problems in the shipping of goods. EU officials wanted to inspect goods entering the island of Ireland but they could not. The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is open and without infrastructure, in part because of years of terrorism. This is one of the terms of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement signed in 1998, which finally brought peace to Northern Ireland after years of war.
Civic peace was thought to rely on that border staying open.
This was an unhappy compromise. The Northern Irish Protocol was struck to solve it.
It was an agreement that effectively kept Northern Ireland within the EU — despite Britain’s vote to leave. Instead, the border was moved between Northern Ireland and Britain, into the Irish Sea. EU laws, administered by EU courts, also took precedence in Northern Ireland. This was not popular in Britain and had other ill effects.
In Northern Ireland, it was considered economically ruinous. Companies that depended on goods from Britain went without inventory. Even the supply of medicine was affected. Food prices rose.
The discontent was real. But negotiation was finally able to allow Britain and the EU to reach a compromise more acceptable to all. The new Windsor Framework, which was announced this week, is the result.
It solves many problems. Goods from Britain to Northern Ireland can now be moved easily and without regulatory barriers. Medicines will travel freely.
EU laws that once applied without heed to a part of the UK will be amended and, if the Northern Irish legislature considers new laws excessive, it can use what is called the “Stormont Brake” and avert them.
People can compromise if needed, and over time, with enough good faith, solutions can be found. Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
All of this might seem a small question amid a world of problems. But it has been a time of difficulty and complexity for Britain and Europe. The Northern Ireland Protocol itself arose as a last-minute solution until it became a problem. Governments have risen and fallen, each promising Brexit deals and failing to get the country over the line. But now, a deal has finally been done.
Negotiations work. People can compromise if needed, and over time, with enough good faith, solutions can be found.
Britain’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has for some of his brief tenure been considered something of a lightweight. He was a finance minister, with little apparent interest in international affairs. That judgment now appears in retrospect to be wrong and this appears to be a real triumph for him.
And it is a success too for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. After years of contention, she and the prime minister seemed contented. Their negotiations had borne fruit.
They had done what their predecessors had failed to do: Reach a new status quo that was broadly acceptable on the most divisive of issues — one which respects the British electoral mandates to leave the EU and the treaty obligations of both powers to keep the Irish border open after the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement of 1998.
This is not quite the end of a long and no doubt ongoing process but it is an acceptable solution.
This episode is a small one in a world of trouble but it proves the value of negotiations and hard work. Many said that Northern Ireland was condemned to limbo — fitting awkwardly between two jurisdictions, unable to find a modus vivendi.
However, that has not proved true. Instead, two geopolitical entities that have had moments of difficulty and disagreement — the EU and the UK — have managed to find something acceptable upon which to build. In a world of war and terrorism, of bitter disagreements and threats, it is positive to see that such things can still happen.