Britain could not have asked for more. The recent Northern Ireland Trade Deal, aka the Windsor Framework, between Britain and the European Union, offers hope for ending a festering dispute between them. The dispute is a sin child of Brexit, Britain’s distraught departure from the European Union in 2016. Now, the new deal promises to end this post-Brexit dispute over trade rules for Northern Ireland. Is the deal worth it?

The deal is a diplomatic coup, viewed any which way. Struck on 27 February, the deal is sure to boot out the long-standing dispute. This sweet possibility kindles new hopes on averting a possible trade war between the two. With such a goodie in its bag, Britain can now hope to restore its relations with European neighbours, which have been under serious strain since Brexit. Seems a decent bargain for Britain. new-northern-ireland-post-brexit-trade-deal

Video Courtesy: YouTube/Al Jazeera English

Mixed Blessing for Mr Sunak

These positives apart, the deal does away with the probable source of friction between Britain and the United States. Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak will now be able to use the deal to remove the obstacles threatening his country’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement with America. This is an important agreement as it was responsible for ending Troubles, the 30- year-long mayhem. Mr Sunak has ticked all the right boxes by being a party to the Windsor Framework.

However, the deal may prove to be a mixed blessing for Mr Sunak as the Framework comes with attendant political risks. This should trigger backlash from pro-Brexit hardliners in his Tory Party and pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland. May be Mr Sunak was aware of these risks when he agreed on the final terms of the deal in a meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in the British royal Windsor residence. northern-ireland-negotiations-gbr-intl/index.html

Bone of Acrimonious Contention

Primarily, the Windsor deal rejigs the woes-filled old deal, sensationally styled as Northern Ireland Protocol. The protocol was put up to eliminate customs controls on freight moving across the fraught land border, open between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The problematic protocol, aka post-Brexit rules, has been in force since early 2021. These rules have been the bone of acrimonious contention between Britain and the European Union, despite Northern Ireland opting to stay within the European single market. This protocol will now stand revised. windsor-framework-for-northern-ireland-quicktake

The dividing line between Northern Ireland and Ireland has been nettlesome in other ways too. As the region remained contested, it was fortified during Troubles. However, customs checks on the Ireland island ended only after Britain and Ireland joined the European Union’s forerunner. Other remnants of this division along the open border vanished gradually after the Good Friday peace deal. The new deal proposes to put in place only selective checks now.

Checks are Trade Irritants

As per the new deal, freight between Britain and Northern Ireland, which are supposed to stay in the latter, would go through a green channel sans routine checks. However, freight marked for Ireland would move through a red channel with more checks and controls. Plus, the new deal plays down the role of the European Court of Justice in deciding on trade disputes. This is a winsome situation for Britain.

However, checks are irritants in any trade pact. They are hated appendages and no one wants checkpoints back. When Britain exited the European Union, prime minister Boris Johnson stressed on leaving its customs union and the free-movement single market intact. That is why the old protocol involved leaving Northern Ireland half inside the European system and half inside Britain. Though it was seen as a great idea in 2021, it proved to be a dud later as it generated grouses in Britain, Ireland, Northern Ireland and the European Union. nation/story/2023-02-27/uk-eu-trade-deal-northern-ireland

The Deal Does not Need a Vote

Grouses are the reasons why Mr Sunak has assured British lawmakers a referendum on the new deal. This assurance may prove to be a non-starter. For two reasons. One, the referendum may not happen. Two, the deal does not need a referendum for technical reasons, because the vote will be not on what the deal is about but on how good are its operative details. However, Mr Sunak will go ahead with the vote, as it is sure to pass, with the opposition Labour Party saying now it would back the deal.

The Labour’s desire to back the deal stems from the realisation that much is at stake. To be sure, this will convince Mr Sunak and his Tory Party that the Windsor pact is the best they could get in the fraught post-Brexit scenario. Well, Mr Sunak’s predecessor Mr Johnson won his prime ministership in 2019, riding largely on his ‘Get Brexit done’ campaign slogan. Now in 2023, Mr Sunak, his Tory partymate and prime minister, has moved decisively towards making that slogan a reality. https://constitution- brexit-done/

Sore Territorial Contradiction

By taking the bull by its horns, Mr Sunak has shown his mettle in grappling with a troublesome Brexit legacy. He has demonstrated his determination to find a lasting solution to the nettlesome issue of Northern Ireland’s trade status. With a series of new steps spelt out in the new Northern Ireland protocol, many unresolved issues from previous deals are expected to get resolved or buried. The new deal may thus prove to be Mr Sunak’s saviour.

Most of the unresolved issues were inherent, primarily birthed by strategically-significant geographical factors. Northern Ireland is a sovereign slice of the United Kingdom, though it has a land border with Ireland. Ireland is a member of the European Union, from which the United Kingdom has exited. This territorial contradiction has been for ever a sore issue and a serious headache for successive British prime ministers since Brexit.

Doomsday Predictions Galore

Post-Brexit, every prime minister had banged their heads against the Brexit wall to resolve the thorny issue of seamless freight flow between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, without endangering the open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. This has been such a huge issue that it went beyond the scope of trade, with serious political and geopolitical consequences. Undoubtedly, the stakes in the Brexit issue have been high.

High enough for geopolitical analysts to air their doomsday predictions. While a section of them saw the European Union disintegrating as a cohesive economic marketplace, another pessimist group predicted an imminent breakup of the United Kingdom into disparate parcels. Meanwhile, incorrigible Cassandras went on to raise the spectre of widespread anarchy and sectarian violence consuming the entire region of strategic significance. ireland-brexit-trade-deal-eu-uk

Happy Biden and Unhappy Suppliers

The new deal silences many of these doomsday theorists. The revamped deal explores ways to allay fears and address apprehensions. As a resounding slap across the faces of doomsday authors, American president Joe Biden will be able to see the new deal come through, before the April silver jubilee of the historic Good Friday Agreement that ushered peace in violence-hit Northern Ireland.

Mr Biden may be happy about the new deal, but British suppliers are not. These suppliers cater to retail outlets in Northern Ireland. They are irritated by the additional checks imposed on freight moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. They abhor the burden of increased documentation and piling paperwork. In real terms, this will isolate the United Kingdom by drawing a line down the Irish Sea. Naturally, parts of the deal are inflaming passions among the deal’s supporters. welcomes-post-brexit-northern-ireland-deal-between-britain-eu- 2023-02-27/

Need for Greater Caution now

This is why the deal’s Brexit backers see the protocol as the European Union’s tool to control the United Kingdom, either in whole or in parts. They cite the demand to remove a meaningful role for the European Court of Justice as proof. However, most pro-British unionists of Northern Ireland, who are largely Protestants, feel their identity is under threat. Thus, the issue may acquire religious overtones. Reason why Mr Sunak needs to be watchful of his steps now.

Mr Sunak needs to be cautious for other reasons as well. His control over his party is shaky. Discontent is growing within as pro-Brexiters feel he hasn’t secured meatier concessions. Unhappy Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland is adding fuel to the fire. Anguished partymen are advising Mr Sunak to dig his heels in so that he can strike down undesirable provisions of the new protocol. This will pose serious dilemmas for Mr Sunak, making him unable to manoeuvre or move around as the situation demands. n-ireland-brexit-trade-deal-windsor/

Northern Ireland Lawmakers Unhappy

This does not mean Mr Sunak should be adventurous. He can ill-afford to be. He should tread cautiously not to trigger rebellion among his partymen and cabinet. He should take care not to rub the European Union the wrong way and set off a trade war. More so as the European Union is taking a stern view of the new deal. The European Union was not keen initially when Mr Johnson hammered the previous deal. Now, the European Union is not overly enthusiastic as it feels the flawed protocol may threaten its survival and existence. says-sunak-von-der-leyen-seal-deal-to-fix-eu-trade- spat/article_39b229ef-0c04-5cbc-b77a-0a207ca052ef.html

The unenthusiastic European Union apart, most lawmakers in Northern Ireland too are unhappy with the new protocol. They want major changes in the deal. Doing away with checks on goods at the sensitive border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is one of them. Their rationale: border checks disturb peace processes and they are antithetical to the Good Friday Agreement and against the belief of the Irish republican and democratic socialist Sinn Fein political party.

Potential to Offer an ‘Emergency Brake’

Sure, border checks will leave the Sinn Fein party quite unhappy. Sinn Fein backs Irish unity and the party is against any move that would fracture the island. Concerned, the Democratic Unionist Party too have joined them in voicing concerns over the new deal. However, Northern Ireland’s Unionist politicians are tearing the protocol apart, forcing Mr Sunak to explore ways to whittle down officialdom and lower trade barriers for exporters to Northern Ireland. The new deal reflects this reality.

Sure, Mr Sunak is confident about many other aspects of the new deal. He is sure the deal would not remove the role of the European Court of Justice in deciding on trade disputes. He looks optimistic about the deal’s potential to offer Northern Ireland’s politicians an ‘emergency brake’ for new European legislation. If Mr Sunak is to be believed, the new deal would let Britain decide on priority excise measures in Northern Ireland. ireland-64795902

Risks from Not Backing the Deal

Mr Sunak loves to call this emergency brake ‘the Stormont brake.’ He is sure this brake would allow Northern Ireland’s elected assembly to oppose new EU goods laws, provided they get the backing from at least 30, from two parties. Viewed through these lenses, the new deal is the best Britain could have dreamt of. This is why legislators, irrespective of their political affiliations, both from the Tory and the Democratic Union parties, should vote for the new deal with their feet.

If they fail to back the new deal, there will be renewed bickering over Brexit. Such acrimony will breach global laws and inject more toxicity into Britain’s relations with the European Union. This will hurt Mr Sunak, his party and their electoral winnability seriously. Plus, there are geopolitical reasons why Britain’s political parties should support the new deal wholeheartedly. Chief among them is the likelihood of bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union improving. The benefits from backing the deal are many. ptions-uks-trading-relationship-eu

In Conclusion

Above all, expect the new deal to strengthen co-operation within the European Union on matters of security and foreign policy. Viewed against Russia’s war in Ukraine, this is a major spinoff from the deal. Relations with France too will perk up, enabling Britain to stop illegal Channel crossings. Britain’s relations with America too will improve as Mr Biden can smell the peace brewing in Northern Ireland. There are many such bright spots in the new Brexit bargain. The best Britain could do now is to back the deal.