IT HASN’T gone away, you know!
The world may be in the grip of the Covid crisis right now, but in the background Fermanagh and its border are still hurtling rapidly towards the end of the Brexit transition period.
Yet even after all these years, and with just months left until the cut off point, the community here has still not been given any clarity as to how to that border will operate after December 31.
While a potential solution to the border problem, known as the ‘Irish Protocol’, had been announced previously, recent developments have cast doubt on its workability. Now, a major UK think-tank has warned that due to the health crisis that arrangement, which would see the North continuing to abide by EU regulations and customs rules, it simply will not be ready in time for the deadline.
“Against the background of a global pandemic, it is very difficult to see how preparations to implement the protocol can be completed before the end of the year, given the scale of both the decisions and practical work still required,” the Institute for Government said in a report published on Saturday.
Pointing out “key staff” in the British government had been redeployed to deal with the Covid crisis, the Institute called for the transition period to be extended and said more time was needed to implement the Withdrawal Agreement.
A key area of dispute with the Irish Protocol has been a potential border in the Irish Sea. From the outset of the arrangement being announced, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed there would be no increased checks on goods coming into the North from Britain. However, last week the Westminster government conceded that some checks would be required.
The Institute for Goverment warned the timetable for implementing the arrangements “was very tight even before Covid-19 hit Europe” but not negotiations had slowed and local businesses did not have time to prepare as they were currently too focused on surviving the virus crisis.