On January 1 2021 a new regulatory environment, out of Brexit, will be the new norm. After the UK finally ceases to be a member of the EU, business, farming and working in Northern Ireland all face new uncertainties.
When the Brexit debate was running, the contrasting messages were, first, that the UK would take back control of its own economy, society and culture and would enjoy the benefits of independent decision-making or, second, that the UK would lose the benefits inherited from over 40 years of participation in the creation of the European Union.
The UK referendum gave a decision: to leave the EU and take back UK control.
The UK decision was more marginal than advocates of good Government would have wished. Within the UK, the four nations showed divided opinions. Scotland by a good margin disagreed, Northern Ireland by a narrower margin disagreed and the Welsh and English tipped the balance to support Brexit. On January 1 the UK will implement Brexit but for Northern Ireland the change comes with a number of compromises. The compromises, far from giving a clear-cut process, will come as a complex series of special conditions and adaptations.
The decision by the UK Government to leave the EU was always going to pose tensions for UK-Ireland relationships. Despite the close connections between the UK and Ireland, with a common language, common commercial frameworks and a highly linked migration and labour market, separation of the UK from the EU created a legacy of shaken continuity. Much of the tension of the unhappy Brexit negotiations can be attributed, directly and indirectly, to the UK-Ireland relationships.
In preparation for the end of the transition period and in anticipation of the new regulatory commercial environment (post-Brexit) there is a search for working arrangements that offer acceptable commercial rules for the UK Government and the EU. The rule setting process is much more complicated than a simple UK-EU negotiation. The Irish Government will play a critical role sitting at the table as an EU participant. The Northern Ireland interest relies on being adequately represented by the UK Government.
There are two major institutional commitments which bring Northern Ireland interests into the negotiations. First, there is the continuing commitment to the 'Common Travel Area' across the British islands (forgive the presumptive use of the word British). Second, there are the legal commitments by the UK and EU to implement the Withdrawal Agreement known as the Protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland.
These specific commitments must be imposed in addition to the many generic changes affecting UK citizens as part of the Brexit process. The EU has issued over 100 advisory notices, ranging from Air Transport to Waste Shipments, to the 27 EU countries on important regulatory changes in the EU and, by implication, for the UK.
Some of the changes reducing rights affecting UK citizens in the EU, such as driving licences, social insurance, and pension payments may have additional arrangements as part of the Common Travel Area which can be agreed to continue through UK-Ireland agreements.
There is still uncertainty about the ways in which the Ireland-N Ireland Protocol will be implemented.
Essentially, it allows Northern Ireland to trade without a trade border on this island and gets this result by treating NI (for trade in goods) as remaining within the EU market.
This will be achieved by arranging that goods destined for the Republic of Ireland coming through NI will be regulated when passing through NI ports.
The contentious element of that arrangement is the method of deciding which goods coming through NI are 'at risk' of being destined for the Republic.
This means that all goods arriving at NI ports should be checked and documented. Similarly, goods leaving Northern Ireland en route to GB, or through GB, may need to be documented.
Does a documented monitoring process amount to making the trade 'fettered'?