Varadkar's Regret: What Went Wrong with the Northern Ireland Protocol

Ireland’s Leo Varadkar Expresses Regret Over Northern Ireland Protocol

Leo Varadkar, the prime minister of Ireland, has expressed concern about the protocol’s imposition on Northern Ireland without the consent of nationalists and unionists.

He told the BBC that the move was effective but acknowledged that unionists would feel it had “weakened the union.”

Since it was enacted in 2021, the protocol, which keeps Northern Ireland in line with some EU trade laws after Brexit, has been a source of contention.

Unionist political parties claim it threatens Northern Ireland’s standing in the UK.

Varadkar Admits to Mistakes in Northern Ireland Protocol Implementation
Leo Varadkar: My Regrets Over Northern Ireland Protocol

Last month, Mr. Varadkar was appointed Taoiseach, or prime minister, of Ireland for a second time.

He previously held the position from 2017 to 2020, and as a result, he participated in the Brexit negotiations that ultimately resulted in the creation of the protocol. Even though the protocol has existed for more than a year, discussions between the UK and EU to find a solution are still ongoing.

Through an agreement between the EU and the UK, goods can be moved across the Irish land border without being checked.

Because both sides abided by EU regulations before Brexit, it was simple to move goods across this border, but when the UK left the EU, specific commercial arrangements were required for this to continue.

When some products, including milk and eggs, arrive from non-EU nations, the EU enforces tight food regulations and demands border checks.

Due to the complicated political history of Northern Ireland, the land border is a contentious subject. As part of these checks, it was anticipated that border checkpoints or cameras might cause unrest.

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Unionist parties contend that creating a physical border across the Irish Sea threatens to undermine Northern Ireland’s status as a member of the UK.

Paul Givan, a former DUP leader who resigned as first minister in February 2022 in protest over the protocol, brought the power-sharing arrangement to an end. Since that time, Northern Ireland has not had a devolved government.

Sinn Féin, which last year overtook the DUP as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, is not permitted to nominate its first minister until the DUP makes a nomination for the position of deputy first minister under the power-sharing system of government that was implemented in Northern Ireland in the 1990s as a means of ending decades of violence. As part of its continuous protest over the Brexit trading arrangements, the DUP is refusing to do.

When asked if there was anything that might have been done better during the protocol discussions by BBC’s economics editor Faisal Islam, Mr. Varadkar, expressed his main regret that the policy had been “forced on Northern Ireland without the backing of both communities.”

He attributed some of the blame to the fact that Northern Ireland’s government “was not working,” saying that “much as Brexit was pushed on Northern Ireland without the support of both communities, the protocol was imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of two communities.”

However, Mr. Varadkar asserted that the protocol was economically effective and that there isn’t a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is evidence of this.

He also claimed that Northern Ireland’s economy was “outperforming the UK economy” when speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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However, Mr. Varadkar claimed that he could see why unionists and unionist politicians believed that the protocol had “weaken[ed] the union between Northern Ireland and Britain” without giving them “a meaningful say as to how it runs.”

The Northern Ireland parliament, Stormont, is still in a deadlock as of Mr. Varadkar’s interview, which was his first with British media since taking government.

Since the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) withdrew from Stormont in protest of the Protocol in February 2022, a functioning devolved government has not been functioning.

Before considering a comeback to the assembly, the party has maintained its boycott at Stormont and is demanding major changes to the procedure.

Mr. Varadkar expressed his optimism that the EU and UK could strike a new agreement “sooner rather than later,” saying that he felt UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would “get about doing business and getting things done.”

With rationality and flexibility on both sides, he continued, “the likelihood of an agreement… in the next couple of months is very real and it can be done.”

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