Restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland (NI), the bedrock of its peace and prosperity, requires getting the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) back into Stormont. The way to do that is through implementing Mutual Enforcement across the North-South Irish border.
Mutual Enforcement, under which the UK and European Union take on the enforcement of each other’s import and export regulations and standards, is based on existing international trade practice and endorsed in the government’s July 2021 Command Paper. It protects both the UK and EU trading blocs, returns sovereignty to NI as part of the United Kingdom, and enables the return of the invisible border on the island of Ireland. It cuts through NI’s Gordian knot of post-Brexit sovereignty, trade, and governance issues. It unlocks the return of the DUP to Stormont.
The NI Protocol (Protocol) is the cause of that Gordian knot. Successive governments have tried to amend it, but ultimately only added to its complexity. The latest iteration of this approach, the “Windsor Framework” (Framework), has already failed the governance test: the DUP (supported in their position by a significant number of Westminster MPs) have not returned to Stormont. And the growing clamour from NI businesses suggests that the much- hyped trading arrangements – Green and Red Lanes – are failing their first contacts with reality.
Mutual Enforcement removes all the negative consequences of the Protocol/Framework yet achieves the stated broader objectives of the Protocol. Unless all parties agree to move to such an alternative, Stormont cannot be re-opened. The UK government should set out to agree Mutual Enforcement with the EU and, with or without the EU’s agreement, abandon the Protocol and Framework as soon as possible.
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