'We can't go on as we are' - how exactly is the Protocol affecting Northern Ireland?

ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn reports on the latest Brexit developments Words by UTV Journalist Stewart Robson

Lord Frost, the UK's chief Brexit negotiator, had a big decision to make on Wednesday.

He could have pushed the nuclear button by triggering Article 16, the clause in the Brexit deal which allows either the UK or EU to rip up parts of the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol.

Instead, he stopped short by demanding the arrangement is significantly reworked by following a "consensual path" through "urgent talks" with the EU.

But getting the EU’s agreement is a different matter entirely.

It's already declared that the Protocol, agreed weeks before the Brexit deal, is not up for renegotiation.

What exactly is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

We've heard about the Northern Ireland Protocol for quite some time now, but what exactly is it and how is it affecting people in Northern Ireland?

The Protocol forms part of the Brexit deal struck between the UK government and the European Union.

Lorries inspected at Northern Ireland ports. Credit: PA

Its aim is to allow the free flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is still a European Union member state.

Keeping this land border open was essential with both sides stating that they were committed to upholding the 1998 peace agreement, more commonly known as the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement.

Before Brexit, NI and the Republic shared the same rules on trade which meant there was never any need for checks on goods going across the internal border.

The Good Friday Agreement.

From 1 January 2021, Northern Ireland’s 300km border with the Republic is the frontier between the UK and the EU.

The EU requires checks on goods crossing into its Single Market

It was agreed that these would be carried out at ports such as in Belfast and Larne in County Antrim as well as Warrenpoint in County Down.

Larne Port facilitates daily crossings between NI and Scotland with national retailers using the route to transport their goods into Northern Ireland.

Goods such as chilled meats.

Much focus has been given recently to what effectively became known as the 'sausage war'.

Boris Johnson has written a foreword in the new document released on Wednesday. Credit: PA

At the end of June, both sides agreed to extend a grace period allowing the flow of chilled meats between GB and NI.

If this hadn't have been struck, then goods such as British-made sausages and bacon could not have been imported into Northern Ireland.

At the last minute, a deal was struck to ensure that transportation can continue until the end of September this year. What happens after that? Well, that still hasn't been decided.

'You're crossing your hands' stock will turn up says retailer Mark Brown

Unionists see any form of checks as a threat to the constitutional integrity of the UK, by having an economic and trade border down the Irish Sea, essentially dividing two UK regions in respect of trade.

Just one month after the Protocol was first implemented, sinister graffiti appeared on walls surrounding Larne Port. As a result, the local council withdrew staff it had employed to carry out the checks over safety concerns.

A car drives past the wreckage of a Translink Metrobus on fire on the Shankill Road Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

In April, political discontent and anger within the loyalist and unionist community spilled into violence as riots broke out in mainly loyalist areas. Unionist politicians blamed opposition to the Protocol for the unrest.

90 police officers were injured in the process.

All unionist parties, those political parties in Northern Ireland that want the region to remain part of the United Kingdom with no economic or political barriers, are totally opposed to the Protocol.

That includes the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the DUP.

DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said on Tuesday that he had a 'simple' message for the European Union; that the Protocol was not working.

Additionally, a legal challenge from unionist politicians was taken to the High Court in Belfast last month. However, the judge dismissed a judicial review.

They argued the Protocol conflicted with the Good Friday Agreement and the Acts of Union 1800 in terms of trade.

Mr Justice Colton found that although the Withdrawal Agreement Act does clash with the Act of Union, the withdrawal agreement superseded all relevant parts of the Acts of Union.

The judgment is likely to be appealed.

On the other hand, nationalist parties in Northern Ireland including Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) want the Protocol to remain.

A sentiment shared by the non-aligned constitutional party, Alliance. 

They acknowledge that there have been some issues caused by the NI Protocol but they insist the real problem is Brexit itself, not a section of a bilateral and lawfully struck agreement.


Hours before Lord Frost's announcement, the chairman of Marks and Spencer warned that the national retailer was cutting its some of its Christmas stock from Northern Ireland stores because checks mean transporting them are not 'worth the risk'.

News to dampen anyone's festive spirit even if it's still months away.

In the first few weeks following the introduction of the Protocol pictures of empty supermarket shelves emerged.

Some retailers issued statements saying they were having problems with stocking produce including fruit and vegetables in their Northern Ireland stores.

Meanwhile online retailers also alerted customers that some products could not be shipped to addresses across the Irish Sea.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, a trade body for the sector, has welcomed the UK government's acknowledgement of issues but says unless there is agreement on both sides, there can be no stability.

"We cannot go on as we are," declared Lord Frost in the House of Lords on Wednesday.

The UK’s Brexit minister wants urgent negotiations to agree a new arrangements.

Lord Frost has warned the NI Protocol has breached the threshold for triggering Article 16 and, if agreement can’t be reached with the EU in the autumn, the UK government will pull that lever.

The road to resolving Brexit is as bumpy as ever.