Governance for 'a place between': the multilevel dynamics of implementing the Protocol on Northern Ireland

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Hist, Anthrop, Philos & Politics

Abstract

Brexit means that Northern Ireland (NI) is located at the interface of the UK and the EU. This is not just in geographical terms; the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and its Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland place NI in a position of being outside the EU but subject to EU rules. This small region, although formally outside the EU, will actually be partly in the EU governance system - and in a way never seen before by any other region or state.

The WA and Protocol thus raise enormously significant challenges for policy-making and for governance in and of NI, as well as for the UK and the EU. It also raises big questions about legitimacy. The Protocol is contested by all sides in NI and devolved government in NI remains fragile (Brexit being still a divisive subject). Uncertainty is worsened by the fact that the democratic consent mechanism in the Protocol means that a vote by members of the NI Assembly (from as early as November 2024) could result in core elements of the Protocol being dropped.

Implementing the Protocol will give rise to a new form of what we define as 'perched' multilevel governance for NI. Given the evolving nature of the post-Brexit UK-EU relationship and UK trade policy (which will affect the impact of the Protocol in real terms in NI), these dynamic arrangements need to be mapped and tracked. This project will do this, as well as explaining the implications and identifying problems. It will also create the means by which informed key stakeholders can together find solutions to those problems.

This ambitious project will make a weighty contribution to scholarship on multilevel governance, but it will also test a hypothesis about ways to improve legitimacy through problem-solving. In addition, it will produce original and comparative qualitative and quantitative data to inform policymakers at all levels of governance affecting NI. This research and case study has major importance for the quality of post-Brexit governance across the whole UK.

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