Prime Minister Boris Johnson was praised for supposedly drawing the deadlock with the EU to a close and agreeing to a Withdrawal Agreement last Autumn. Ireland had pushed back against Theresa May’s suggestion of a Northern Ireland backstop, which would have meant the country stayed in the EU’s single market and customs union while the rest of the UK would be outside it. Many feared this would resurrect tensions across the Irish border.
Mr Johnson proposed a border down the Irish Sea instead, which Ireland and all the other EU member states agreed to and the problem appeared to have been put to bed.
After Brexit Day on January 31, talks regarding a future trade deal began.
Both sides are racing to meet a trade agreement before the end of the year — when the UK will be officially out of the transition period, with or without a deal — but they have caught in a deadlock over a level-playing field, access to UK fisheries and the governance of any agreement.
However another potential obstacle may lie ahead.
The Institute for Government revealed in a report from May that a crisis may be looming regarding the Irish border.
The report explained: “Against the background of a global pandemic, it is very difficult to see how preparations to implement the [Irish] protocol can be completed before the end of the year.”
It continued: “[British] government capacity is being absorbed managing the [health] crisis and ‘key staff’ who had been dealing with Brexit, had been ‘redeployed’.”
The think-tank’s report added, “the UK and the EU should extend the transition period or agree a separate, longer implementation period for the Withdrawal Agreement” to deal with the Irish border.
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He added: “If the UK or Northern Ireland fail to deliver on Johnson’s deal in future, they could end up before the EU courts in Luxembourg.”
The Institute for Government said that to do so would “damage” the UK’s international reputation and “trade ambitions”.
If the deal collapsed, the “hardest form of border” could form in the Irish Sea.
Furthermore if the deal unravelled completely, new checkpoints on the Irish land border could lead to more violence and “political and security risks in Northern Ireland”.
A report from the Commons European Scrutiny Committee from May also revealed that in May, the European Commission had published a suggestion to amend the Withdrawal Agreement.
Apparently, it wanted to address a number of “errors and omissions”.
This included: “Certain adjustments to the number and scope of EU laws on goods that will continue to be applicable in Northern Ireland beyond the end of the post-Brexit transition period.”
However, ministers did not ratify the changes to Northern Ireland at a Joint Committee meeting in June.