What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Britain warns against suspending parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol amid pressure from Stormont and hard-line Brexiteers in the Conservative Party. Brussels will launch three separate lawsuits against Britain in retaliation.

At the center of the dispute is the Brexit law, which is accused of undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

Here we tell you everything you need to know about the protocol, how Boris Johnson wants to change it and whether or not the UK and EU are headed for a trade war.

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

It was an agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union that set the trading rules for Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Northern Ireland shares a land border with Ireland, which is an EU member through which goods move freely as there are no checkpoints.

With all sides committed to keeping this land border open, London and Brussels agreed to control goods to and from mainland Britain.

But that effectively created a tariff border between two different parts of the UK – Northern Ireland and Great Britain – which infuriated Unionists.

What’s new?

For a year and a half, negotiators from the European Commission and the UK have been discussing how to ease the trade tensions caused by the protocol.

The talks are deeply technical and there are no easy answers as the UK pushes to protect the integrity of the Union and Brussels seeks to protect the integrity of the single market.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced the UK would introduce legislation to unilaterally suspend parts of the protocol.

It’s the UK taking a step towards going it alone – suggesting the Boris Johnson government is prepared to ignore parts of the deal even if Brussels protests.

This comes after the DUP refused to enter into a power-sharing deal with Sinn Féin in Stormont following the May election that made Irish reunification supporters the largest political party in Northern Ireland for the first time.

The DUP has made its opposition to the protocol the focus of its campaign and is blocking the restoration of the Northern Ireland assembly until it is removed or replaced, meaning the executive cannot address issues like the cost of living and health care.

So what’s the problem?

Unionists fear the protocol will drive a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The DUP claims the checks are raising the cost of living, but this is disputed by other parties in Northern Ireland, who claim the country’s special status in the single market has shielded its economy. What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

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