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The new trade deal between the EU and the UK is also promising for Northern Ireland and the US


A new trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which left the EU in 2020, could have finally found a way to secure peace in Northern Ireland after Brexit reignited old tensions.

The deal between the EU and the UK, called the Windsor framelays down new rules on how trade will move between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, the island made up of Scotland, Wales and England, the other three counties of the United Kingdom.

Among other changes, the Windsor Framework creates two categories of items to be shipped from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Items intended to remain in Northern Ireland would have free passage, but items destined to cross the border into the Republic of Ireland – which is in the EU – would be subject to strict screening.

The agreement has been ratified by the UK Parliament and the European Union. But it remains to be seen whether Northern Ireland’s unionist political parties will accept it and lift their boycott of the provincial government.

Since union members’ refusal to participate in the 2022 power-sharing meeting began, elected representatives in Northern Ireland have failed to address a growing backlog of critical issues, including the declining quality and availability of health carethe housing shortage, the rising energy costs And inflation.

If scholars by Northern Ireland politics, we see a recently approved trade deal as an opportunity to bring Northern Ireland’s political focus back to these crucial issues.

A history of problems

The late 1960s saw a period of violence known as “The Troubles”, pitting nationalists, who want Northern Ireland to be part of the Republic of Ireland and are predominantly Catholic, against trade unionists, who want it remains part of the United Kingdom. and are predominantly Protestant. During the next three decades, about 3,500 people were killed And another 47,000 were injured during riots, murders and other violence. These events largely took place in the six counties of Northern Ireland, which are part of the UK, but also took place in neighboring Ireland and the rest of the UK, on ​​the island of Great Britain.

A 1998 agreement between the British and Irish governments and various political groups in Northern Ireland ended the violence. That deal, called the Good Friday Agreement by Nationalists and the Belfast Agreement by Trade Unioniststhe establishment of a power-sharing provincial government in Northern Ireland, close links between this new government and the Irish government, and various systems of co-operation and co-ordination between the governments of the UK and Ireland.

The agreement also allowed people living in Northern Ireland to identify as Irish, British or both and carry passports from either place. These measures made it easier for people of different identities in Northern Ireland to coexist, and in some cases to express complex identities. Today for example more than a third of the Northern Ireland population carry an Irish passport.

And the 1998 agreement states that the decision of whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK or unite with Ireland should only be made by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

When the agreement was signed, both the UK and Ireland were part of the EU. The EU’s common market allows goods, people and business to flow freely between member states, without customs or passport controls.

Within a few years of the 1998 agreement, trade and people merged seamlessly, making the border virtually invisible – especially after the United Kingdom was removed military installations and the fortified barriers on the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The port of Belfast is a crucial point of trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Brexit endangers peace

With the help of a strengthening EU, peace was stable until 2016. That year, the people of the UK voted to leave the EU, even though the majority of voters in Northern Ireland wanted to stay with the union.

The UK’s departure from the EU meant that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland mattered again. It would no longer be a technical, administrative border between EU member states, but rather a point where goods and people would flow in and out of the EU and a non-EU country.

Tensions flared over where to place these controls and the potential new divisions they would create between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK

In 2019, the UK and the EU reached an agreement called the Northern Ireland Protocol, which created a kind of border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. on some goods, including sausages, medicines, plants and potatoes.

Those problems led to strong backlash from union members, who said it had done what they feared: separated them from their nation.

In 2022, in protest against the protocol, the Democratic Unionist Party, a major party in Northern Ireland politics, withdrew from the provincial governmentclose effectively.

Now the Windsor Framework retains key border protections around the EU, but relaxes many of the restrictions created in the 2019 agreement.

An important American role

There is also an element of US foreign policy at work here. The US were key for the negotiations on the 1998 agreementAnd successive administrations have defended it as the only way to lasting peace.

When the UK voted to withdraw from the EU, leaving meant the UK had to negotiate a new trade deal with the US. before US-UK trade talks could really begin.

With the agreed Windsor Framework, the US will do that probably send President Joe Biden to visit both Ireland and Northern Ireland, possibly as early as April, to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1998 agreement. The new US Special Envoy for Economic Affairs in Northern Ireland, Joe Kennedy III, a former Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, too expect to travel to Northern Ireland soonwhich American investors are eager to take advantage of Northern Ireland’s unique connections with both the EU and UK markets.

All eyes are now on the Democratic Unionist Party. Members voted against the Windsor Framework in the British Parliament at the end of March, but the people of Northern Ireland, including many trade unionists and businesses, want a functioning government.

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