The UK Government has started the legislative process to override the Northern Ireland protocol and the EU has responded by triggering legal action against the UK for non-enforcement of the agreement.

This puts both parties on a collision course, with the ultimate destination potentially the collapse of the entire Brexit deal that has enabled trade continue between the EU and UK without tariffs.

If it comes to this, it will be a nightmare for trade, with beef and dairy farmers worst hit.

However, the relatively good news is that that disastrous situation remains a long way off.

Approval process

The UK parliamentary approval process is expected to take up to a year at least and the EU legal action is expected to take a similar time.

This allows time for serious engagement between the EU and UK, because neither economy is in a strong enough position to survive a trade war that further adds to consumer inflation and product availability.

It is also clear from the UK perspective that the legislation is driven by Westminster and Stormont politics and these can change over time.

Impossible to have perfect Brexit or EU controls

The other reality is that there is a compromise that while it doesn’t give either the EU or UK completely what they want, it gives a reasonable amount.

It is simply not possible to enforce full EU border controls, designed for large volume of single product cargoes in ships and containers on consignments of multiple small volume deliveries.

Protocol doesn't work without modifications for NI supermarkets served by distribution depots in Britain.

What works for a cargo of grain landing in Rotterdam doesn’t work for a container with hundreds of products from a distribution centre in Britain for delivery to supermarkets in Northern Ireland. This is where a green and red lane principle can be further developed.

Northern Ireland is unique, in that it is the only part of the UK that is physically part of a land mass that is part of the EU.

That requires a bespoke model of border controls that are unobtrusive for consumer products and items that will circulate within Northern Ireland only.

It also follows that product which may be traded onwards to the EU requires full border controls. With proper use of technology, that should not be beyond the imagination of the EU and UK to develop.

Veterinary agreement

The most obvious and logical way to simplify trade for animal and plant products between the EU and UK would be a veterinary agreement to align standards.

This would give industry and farmers, not just in Northern Ireland but across Britain as well, full access to EU markets for goods of animal and plant origin without veterinary certification and inspection.

If this barrier was removed, it would enable small businesses to recommence trade for speciality food products that has ceased since Brexit came into effect.

For all this to happen, there has to be a reset of relations between the UK and EU. There is no logic to the trade dispute, but there is a feeling that it is part of the outworking of wider political issues in Westminster and Stormont.

Whatever the issues at a political level, it is totally unreasonable that farmers in either Britain or any part of the island of Ireland should be left to carry the cost.

A solution can be found if there is the political will to do so and recent events still leave a time frame for that to be negotiated.

More in this week's Down to Agribusiness podcast below.

Read more

Farmers carry the risk from protocol changes

Protocol gives NI beef factories advantage over rest of UK and EU

What changes to the NI protocol could mean for farmers