Northern Ireland may become ‘permanent casualty’ of Brexit if dispute not solved

‘This is not something in my view that can just be allowed or should just be allowed to fester. I think that’s a real worry’

Eleanor Sly
Thursday 29 July 2021 09:00
<p>The Northern Ireland Protocol avoids a hard border in Ireland </p>

The Northern Ireland Protocol avoids a hard border in Ireland

The Northern Ireland protocol could become a constant problem in relations between the EU and UK, peers have found.

They warn that this could happen if both sides refuse to change their “fundamentally flawed” approaches to resolving the dispute.

A House of Lords committee, created to look at the controversial post-Brexit trading agreements in Northern Ireland, has suggested that NI could become a “permanent casualty” of Brexit should a compromise not be found soon.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed on to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. This is done by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.

However, currently the EU and UK are unable to agree on the implementation of new checks and processes on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The committee expressed concern over the “fundamentally flawed” approaches of both the UK and the EU. They said that the UK approach had a “lack of clarity, transparency and readiness” and suggested that the EU approach showed a “lack of balance, understanding and flexibility.”

An introductory report has been published by the committee on the arrangements which they feel have created problems on trade in the Irish Sea.

Although the committee has members who hold a variety of political viewpoints, which include nationalist and unionist peers from Northern Ireland, their findings were agreed on by all.

The report found that there had been a “serious deterioration” in relations between London, Belfast, Dublin and Brussels. It also suggested that the EU mistrusts whether or not the UK is acting in good faith. The committee felt that the UK, on the other hand, thinks the EU is adopting a disproportionate approach to how the protocol is being implemented.

Chair of the committee, Lord Jay of Ewelme, called the disagreement “a real worry,” adding that compromise, even if difficult, was urgently needed.

He said: "That won’t be easy, but it is an absolute necessity that the UK and the EU should now work together urgently to identify solutions if Northern Ireland is not to become a permanent casualty of the Brexit process.”

"The tensions over the protocol currently seem insoluble. Yet that was also true of the political situation during the Troubles. But the peace process ultimately took root and flourished, through a process of time, patience, dialogue, and most of all trust. Those same qualities are now needed to address the problems that Brexit and the protocol present."

He went on to add: “If there is no resolution, if it just festers, it seems to me it will become a constant irritant in the relationship between the EU and the UK and it will become an irritant within the island of Ireland, between north and south.

"I cannot see that that is in the interest of either community or any of the communities in Northern Ireland nor of business people in Northern Ireland nor of the economy of Northern Ireland and that’s what worries me, that’s why I really do think it is important to reach an agreement here.

"This is not something in my view that can just be allowed or should just be allowed to fester. I think that’s a real worry."

The committee also found that trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK had been “significantly disrupted,” with a risk that some British businesses could withdraw from the NI market.

Another concern was the UK-EU agreement on veterinary standards, with both sides called on to find a compromise in their rules.

Finally, it was suggested that alternatives to the trading agreement should be considered with the Stormont Assembly set to vote in 2024 on whether or not to drop these arrangements.

Additional reporting by PA

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