On the 20th May 2020, in preparation for the next round of talks with the EU – due to commence in early June – the UK Government went public with their planned approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
First and foremost, this is an outline of how the UK Govt propose to implement and meet the legal obligations they committed to within the Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol. As such, it needs to be kept in mind that this document only covers the opening position of the UK side in these future trade discussions whilst the EU will have their own approach, based on the different aims and priorities of their key stakeholders, i.e. the 27 member states, including the Republic of Ireland, who have a clear strategic and personal interest.
That aside, Fortior Insight Ltd believe that the document, and the accompanying press release, should be viewed as a welcome clarification on the UK’s position.
Pragmatic v Legalistic
The UK call for all parties to take a pragmatic approach when it comes to Northern Ireland is a central focus point in this 20-page document. ‘Pragmatic’ is often defined as dealing with things ‘sensibly and realistically’, therefore, who could argue against such a request? In this case, however, some (especially on the EU side) will likely claim that the UK are calling on the EU to take a ‘minimalistic’ approach, i.e. meaning to do the ‘least possible’, more so than a pragmatic one.
Calling for pragmatism is not a new tactic from rank and file conservatism. The PM made similar calls last October when the Govt also released for public scrutiny its counter proposal on the now defunct, original backstop-based Protocol. Earlier this year, in February, Stephen Booth, the Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange, wrote an article in the conservativehome.com website centered on the UK’s pragmatic approach to the transition talks. Within this article, Mr. Booth appears to argue that the EU were, in contrast, taking a much more ‘legalistic’ approach, i.e. ‘concerning adherence to law and formula, to the negotiations:
“Ultimately, the debate is beset by the same conflicting interests witnessed in the previous talks. For the EU, having avoided the prospect of a North-South border for now, the primary concern is the integrity of its external border, which will be shifted to the Northern Ireland border. In the first instance, the EU’s approach to such questions is, as ever, a legalistic one and its base case is that all the usual checks should apply.”
Within the following document, Fortior Insight will review the latest paper released by the UK Government and where possible, compare and contrast its content directly with the Protocol it relates to.