The withdrawal agreement signed between the UK and the EU in January 2020 has significant implications for Northern Ireland. The agreement stipulates that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs territory and will also be subject to EU customs rules, effectively creating a customs border in the Irish Sea.

This means that goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain will be subject to checks and controls, and tariffs may apply if the goods are deemed to be at risk of being moved across the border into the EU. However, goods being shipped from Northern Ireland to Great Britain will not be subject to checks or tariffs.

In order to ensure that the agreement does not undermine the Good Friday Agreement, which established peace in Northern Ireland after decades of conflict, the agreement also includes a protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. This protocol aims to ensure that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member state.

Under the protocol, Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of EU regulations, including those relating to goods, veterinary and plant health, and state aid. This is intended to avoid the need for physical checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which could reignite tensions in the region.

The protocol also includes provisions for the Northern Ireland Assembly to vote every four years on whether to continue the alignment with EU regulations. If the assembly votes against continued alignment, there will be a two-year transition period during which the UK and EU will seek to agree on an alternative solution.

Overall, the withdrawal agreement represents a delicate balancing act between the competing interests of the EU, the UK, and Northern Ireland. The hope is that the agreement will maintain peace and stability in Northern Ireland while also allowing the UK to leave the EU and chart its own course. Only time will tell whether this delicate balance can be maintained in practice.