Irish Backstops

• There is concern that the UK might trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, popularly known as the Irish Backstops, several media reports have said.

About:

• The Irish Backstops determine the nature of post-Brexit trade and in case the UK does invoke it, it would further strain relations with the EU as well as with Ireland.

• The Irish Backstop, formally known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, is an agreement that was reached between the UK and the EU that there would be no new checks on goods crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

• Before Brexit, people and goods could move freely between the two areas because both were part of the EU’s single market and customs union, but the border situation changed post-Brexit.

• The UK comprises Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. Out of these, Northern Ireland is the only country, which still remains within the EU’s single market system for goods.

• Having the backstops means that there would be no border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It also means that goods cross to and from the country into the EU without customs checks, tariffs and extra paperwork.

• The backstops were opposed by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland since they saw them as weakening Northern Ireland’s position within the UK.

What is Article 16?
• Article 16 of the protocol, titled “Safeguards”, says that if the application of this agreement leads to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade,” then the UK can unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.

• Essentially, invoking this article would pause the protocol and will create a space for further negotiations about how trade should be conducted.

• There are fears that triggering Article 16 could lead the EU to take retaliatory action, ultimately leading to the suspension of the free trade agreement between the EU and UK.

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Mains Paper 2: International Relations

Prelims level: Irish Backstops

Mains level: Read the newsfeed

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