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Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland


When the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, the Withdrawal Agreement concluded between the European Union and the United Kingdom entered into force. The Withdrawal Agreement consists of two main documents:

On 24 December 2020, the United Kingdom and the European Union agreed a Trade and Cooperation Agreement, an Agreement on Nuclear Cooperation and an Agreement on Security Procedures for Exchanging and Protecting Classified Information.

The transition period, during which EU laws continued to apply in the UK, ended on 31 December 2020.  On 1st January 2021, therefore, the Ireland - Northern Ireland Protocol came into force.  The objectives of the Protocol are set out in Article 1.


Article 1


  1. This Protocol is without prejudice to the provisions of the 1998 Agreement in respect of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of   consent, which provides that any change in that status can only be made with the consent of a majority of its people.
  2. This Protocol respects the essential State functions and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom.
  3. This Protocol sets out arrangements necessary to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, to maintain the necessary conditions for continued North-South cooperation, to avoid a hard border and to protect the 1998 Agreement in all its dimensions.


 The remaining articles and associated annexes contained in the protocol are shown below.



Title and associated annexes 


Rights of Individuals
Annex 1 


Common Travel Area 


Customs territory of the United Kingdom 


Customs, movement of goods
Annex 2

Articles 5-10 which deal with trade and alignment   provisions ae subject to the democratic consent mechanism provided for in Article 18


Protection of the UK internal market


Technical  regulations, assessments, registrations, certificates, approvals and   authorisations


Vat and excise
Annex 3


Single electricity market
Annex 4


State aid
Annexes 5 and 6


Other areas of North-South cooperation 


Implementation, application, supervision and enforcement 


Common Provisions 


Specialised Committee 


Joint Consultative Working Group 


Annex 7 


Protection of Financial Interests 


Democratic Consent in Northern Ireland 


Along side the joint EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, was a unilateral declaration on consent by the UK Government, which addressed the operation of Article 18.   

In May 2020, the UK Government published the command paper titled ‘The UK’s approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol’.

In December 2020, the Co-Chairs of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee reached an agreement in principle to address the then outstanding issues related to the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, in particular the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A series of papers, published at the same time, outlined the draft Decisions of the Joint Committee, and draft unilateral declarations by the United Kingdom and the EU in the Joint Committee, of which this agreement in principle consists.

A Northern Ireland Protocol Command Paper, which was laid in Parliament on 10 December, outlined further details on the agreement in principle, as well as further information on the UK Government’s work to implement the Protocol and support businesses as it comes into force.

The EU-UK Joint Committee met virtually on 17 December 2020 to 'endorse all formal decisions and other practical solutions related to the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, as of 1 January 2021'. The decisions adopted by the committee related to: the practical arrangements for an EU presence in Northern Ireland; the definition of goods “not at risk” of entering the EU's Single Market; the exemption of agricultural and fish subsidies from state aid rules; and corrections to some errors and omissions in Annex 2 of the Protocol. 



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