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Northern Irish economy outperforming UK thanks to Brexit protocol: Experts

BELFAST — The post-Brexit trade protocol is helping, not hurting, growth and profitability in Northern Ireland because of its advantageous access to EU markets, according to a British economic think tank.

Wednesday’s findings from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research pour cold water on Conservative and Democratic Unionist claims that the protocol’s requirement for EU checks on British goods arriving in Northern Ireland has undermined business opportunities.

As part of its latest quarterly report on the U.K.’s economic outlook, the London-based research group says available data shows the reverse is true. It says Northern Ireland’s economic output “has slightly outperformed the U.K. average.”

“This is partly an outcome of the Northern Irish protocol and its special status in the Brexit arrangements, including better trade and investment conditions as part of the EU’s single market and customs union,” the report found.

“Closer links with the EU, through trade and also potentially labor mobility, have benefited Northern Ireland post-Brexit,” it added.

The protocol treaty between the U.K. government and European Commission, agreed in December 2019 as part of the wider Withdrawal Agreement, was designed to avoid creation of a two-way customs and sanitary border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member with extensive and growing connections with the U.K. region.

Instead, the protocol requires one-way EU checks on British goods arriving into Northern Irish ports as a less disruptive and more easily enforced option. Crucially, the protocol also leaves manufacturers in Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the U.K., able to export barrier-free to the entire 27-nation EU.

But the U.K. government since March 2021 has refused to implement protocol-mandated checks in full and is currently threatening to reduce them further, citing alleged damage to the Northern Ireland economy.

Democratic Unionists, who oppose the protocol because it makes trade in goods easier with the Republic of Ireland than with the rest of the U.K., claim it has raised Northern Irish retail prices 27 percent — an assertion not backed by any publicly available data.

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