There may be a short-term breakthrough in the air over the delicate Brexit point of the Irish border, the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol. Today, British and European negotiators are speaking in Brussels. A solution may be found in March. There is progress, the runway for an agreement is there.
Brussels and London agreed in 2019 that Northern Ireland would remain partially within the EU customs union by continuing to partially follow the single market trade rules. In this way, trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland can be carried out without border controls. No border controls on the Irish mainland was an important part of the Easter agreement that ended the Northern Irish Civil War.
Therefore, a hard border was drawn in the Irish Sea, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Since then, border controls have taken place in Northern Irish ports, the British government wants to abolish those border controls on goods that are shipped to Northern Ireland and only sold there. The protocol leads to large deficits in Northern Ireland.
London is now proposing that traders who regularly send items from the UK to Northern Ireland will no longer be subject to border checks one-on-one. That would solve most of the problem without threatening the EU’s internal market, because you can be sure that those goods will indeed remain in Northern Ireland and will not be sent to Ireland through the Northern Ireland backdoor and end up in the EU. This is the great fear of Brussels.
By the way, it’s really only about goods, people would be excluded from the deal. That there is a breakthrough is largely due to the fact that figures such as Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have left the scene. Sunak is more at ease. Since Boris Johnson and Liz Truss left, hostility towards Brussels has largely disappeared. The mood is different, Sunak is not opposed to the EU practically and ideologically. That has triggered the tilt.
The agreement could be approved in March, politically a lot depends on it. Thus, ratification of the agreement would be well in time for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Easter agreement. And it paves the way for an American state visit to the United Kingdom. If all goes well, there is a good chance that the US president will come to the UK, but he has said he will only come if there is an agreement on the Irish border.