Almost a year under the Brexit deal, trade in Northern Ireland has undergone an unprecedented metamorphosis. Old trade routes have fallen out of favor and new routes have emerged. The trade gained between Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom has just exploded with trade with the Republic of Ireland.
London and Brussels have been engaged in talks for months to review existing agreements on Northern Ireland. But Northern Irish companies are not waiting for the outcome of the negotiations. They have long since adapted to the new economic realities.
Part of the Brexit deal is the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has given Northern Ireland a separate status within the United Kingdom. To end the fragile peace in Northern Ireland, the protocol decided that there would be no hard land border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland. Northern Ireland therefore continues to follow the rules of the European internal market for goods.
is a customs border to lie between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This had immediate major implications for trade between Northern Ireland and the other parts of the United Kingdom.
Take transport company McCulla, which has offices in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. With 100 trucks it transports frozen food products to and from Northern Ireland. The new customs border involves controls at Northern Ireland ports for food shipments.
McCulla’s director Peter Summerton points to the large piles of papers on his desk. “We already have to fill in several forms for a load of chicken. Often several loads for different customers in one truck.
This year’s targets for delays, price increases and empty shelves in Northern supermarkets. Some British companies did not feel like the red tape and decided not to supply goods to Northern Ireland at all.
has trade between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland a huge boost got. Exports of Northern Irish products have been exported at 60 percent, the exports of Irish companies to Northern Ireland have been exported at 48 percent. Interestingly enough, the Northern Ireland economy has recovered faster of the corona crisis than other parts of the United Kingdom.
It also closed more Northern Irish products to be imported directly from the European Union via Ireland. Where most transport traffic between the EU and Northern Ireland went over the British land bridge, many companies are trying to use the British route earlier. For example, the number of direct ferry services between Ireland and the EU has multiplied over the past year.
The McCulla transport company has also quickly adapted to the new situation. It will soon open a new distribution center in Northern Ireland to handle trade from the European Union. “We have to,” Summerton says. “It just costs us too much money to import goods through Britain. Gone are the days when Britain was the department store of Northern Ireland.”
More trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland: is that bad? It depends on who you ask. The new situation raises concerns among the pro-British unionist community. Earlier this year, disturbances broke out in unionist neighborhoods of several Northern Irelanders. Unionists see the Northern Ireland Protocol as a prelude to their nightmare scenario: a reunited Ireland.
Jim Allister is the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and has become the political face of the anger and action within the unionist community. For years Allister’s on the fringes of Northern Ireland politics, but this year the TUV is in the polls of one of the biggest unionist parties.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol has made Northern Irish people domestic. If you import goods into the UK from Northern Ireland, it is now the same as importing goods from Brazil or Bolivia. That is not only absurd, it undermines the integrity of the United Kingdom.”
According to Allister, this had always been the intention of Brussels. “She is now creating one Irish economy. This is a deliberate attempt to dismantle the UK through economic disruption. That is the punishment the UK is getting at Brussels for daring to break away from the European Union.”
It will not prevent the pro-Irish nationalists and trade between Northern Ireland on the contrary applaud. They want the Northern Ireland Protocol made anyway. They point to the special situation in which Northern Ireland finds itself. It has been with one in the European Union and with the other in the United Kingdom. A unique position from which Northern Irish companies benefit, or so they argue.
Still, Peter Summerton of the McCulla haulage company would have preferred everything to stay the same. There are now more customs controls in Belfast than in the Port of Rotterdam. That’s just not right. it is to carry goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.