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How the Brexit Deal Attempts to Solve the Irish Border Issue

A former customs guard hut directly situated on the north south Irish border stands disused.
A former customs guard hut directly situated on the north south Irish border stands disused.
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The boundary between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, long the scene of checkpoints and violent protest, has once again become a source of tension since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union in 2016. How to handle the border, which marks the limits of EU territory for the first time following the U.K.’s departure from the bloc, was a key stumbling block to the U.K. and EU reaching a trade deal. Ultimately both sides were able to agree on terms ensuring there should be no need for a physical frontier dividing the island of Ireland. Yet problems may have been kicked down the road rather than permanently resolved.

When the U.K. left the EU, it agreed that a new type of boundary would emerge not on land, but in the Irish Sea. The plan, worked out between the EU and U.K. in October 2019, effectively leaves Northern Ireland as part of the bloc’s customs area. Moreover, Northern Ireland will have to stick with many of the rules governing the EU’s single market, including those covering areas such as food safety and state aid. Known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, both sides signed off on the final details in December 2020 and it was incorporated in the wider trade deal.