The Good Friday Agreement (GFA)
The 1998 GFA brought an end to the 30 years of violent sectarian strife, euphemistically known as ‘The Troubles’. The GFA was carefully constructed so as to balance the competing positions of both communities and to remove all infrastructure on the border between N and S Ireland. Importantly, it also created a power-sharing system in N Ireland, with the largest political party appointing the First Minister and the second largest party appointing the Deputy First Minister.
The GFA was ‘guaranteed’ by the UK and the Republic of Ireland both being members of the EU and therefore subject to the same trading and legal arrangements. When the UK left the EU, it became necessary to work out a new arrangement for Northern Ireland which did not risk re-creating a border between N and S Ireland, but still enabled the UK as a whole to be treated as a third-country outside the EU.
The Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP)
A third country outside the EU requires a land border. The solution to squaring this complex and sensitive this circle (one of the most difficult elements of the UK’s departure from the EU, along with the status of Gibraltar) was The Northern Ireland Protocol (the NIP), an integral part of the broader Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and the EU (The TCA).
The NIP allows N Ireland to remain in the EU Single Market, but takes it out of the Customs Union. This deliberate fudge imposes the requirement to carry out checks on goods coming from GB to N Ireland to avoid them entering the EU’s Single Market via the ‘back door’ of N / S Ireland trade. Since the GFA means there can be no infrastructure on the N/S Ireland Border, those controls have to be carried out ‘in’ the Irish Sea – in practice on arrival of goods in N Ireland.