The view from Northern Ireland on the UK-EU post-Brexit trade dispute

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By Shona Murray
Loyalists opposed to the Northern Ireland Protocol protest in Newtownards town centre, Northern Ireland, Friday, June 18, 2021.
Loyalists opposed to the Northern Ireland Protocol protest in Newtownards town centre, Northern Ireland, Friday, June 18, 2021.   -   Copyright  Peter Morrison / AP

The United Kingdom and the European Union are locked in post-Brexit talks which, if left unresolved, could lead to an all-out trade war with Northern Irish businesses caught in the middle.

Negotiations over Northern Ireland have dragged on for over a month, with its agriculture sector being one of the industries directly affected by the feud.

The sector says a trade war would be a lose-lose situation for all.

"I don't see any winners out of a trade war," Victor Chestnutt, head of the Ulster Farmers Union, told Euronews.

"That's not saying it wouldn't happen but I would take a very dim view on either side that started that, - a trade war to try to use any industry, be it farmers or any other industry as pawns in a bigger game. I think I would just be totally wrong in this day and age. I don't think the public would really like it," Chestnutt added.

Britain is threatening to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol, which is the part of the Brexit deal that keeps Northern Ireland in the EU's single market for goods.

The move has instead led to a de facto border in the Irish Sea between the British mainland and Northern Ireland.

London, despite signing up to the agreement, claims the protocol has burdened businesses with more paperwork.

If the UK suspends the agreement, Brussels said it would respond with trade sanctions.

Meanwhile, for many Northern Irish businesses, the country's unique position represents a huge opportunity.

"We've had regular meetings with the Canadian government, with the US government. They've said, Northern Ireland has great potential as having dual access to the EU and the UK and is unique in the world for that," revealed Seamus Leheny, policy manager for Logistics UK.

"And that's why as the business community we've not been saying to the government 'Let's scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol and invoke Article 16', instead let's reach an agreed outcome with the EU and make it work," he went on.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was supposed to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Some say a frontier would threaten a return to the sectarian violence that blighted the region for decades.

However, many in the Unionist community feel this new trading relationship impinges on their British identity, resulting in a flare-up in sectarian tensions.

"People have taken fairly drastic measures as a way to show their frustration and their anger at the Northern Ireland Protocol. I don't believe it's the right way to go. I think we have seen how this story ends. It doesn't end very well when you have people taking firearms back out on the streets of Northern Ireland," noted the Loyalist Community's spokesperson Winston Irvine.

Meanwhile, the UK government has asked for the role of the European Court of Justice – the arbiter of EU law – to be removed from the protocol, something that Brussels has refused, saying it is impossible and unnecessary.

A survey from Queen's University Belfast found that this was not a major concern for people.

And while the EU and UK try to reconcile their differences, Northern Irish businesses will continue to trade throughout the uncertainty.