UK & EU both have a "fundamentally flawed" approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol, House of Lords committee concludes

The UK and EU have both taken a "fundamentally flawed" approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol, a House of Lords committee has concluded.

The peers said there had been a lack of clarity, transparency and readiness on the part of the UK government.

The EU was described as lacking "balance, understanding and flexibility".

The committee said both sides needed to be prepared to compromise.

Lord Jay of Ewelme, committee chairman, said it was an "absolute necessity" that the UK and EU urgently worked together to ensure Northern Ireland did not become a "permanent casualty of the Brexit process".

He added that the political qualities of patience, dialogue and "most of all, trust", which had been seen during the Northern Ireland peace process, needed to come to the fore.

The UK and EU agreed the Northern Ireland Protocol in 2019 as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. This prevents a hard border in Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods.

It began operating in January and has led to difficulties and increased costs when transporting goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Unionists say it also undermines Northern Ireland's place in the UK.

A cross-party Lords committee has been examining the operation of the protocol. Its membership includes a variety of political opinion, including former SDLP leader Baroness Ritchie and former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy leader Lord Dodds.

Both the EU and UK need a "greater level of understanding of Northern Ireland than is now apparent," Lord Jay told BBC Radio Foyle.

The Stormont Executive has a "key role to play," he added.

"One of the things which needs to be done I think, is for Northern Ireland's interests to be made much clearer both to the European Union and frankly to Westminster.

"The Executive has a real role to play in establishing direct contact with, or strengthening direct contact with the European Union in Brussels so they are better aware of the concerns and needs of Northern Ireland.

"I do not think enough of that is happening," he said.

The report has nonetheless been unanimously agreed by the committee members.

The greatest practical difficulty flowing from the protocol is the range of checks and controls on food products going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Both sides have proposed an agrifood agreement - a so-called Swiss-style proposal from the EU which would involve the UK following EU rules and an 'equivalence' plan from the UK.

The Lords said that failure to reach a deal on this issue would show that "Northern Ireland's political and economic stability is a lower priority for both than maintaining their respective red lines".

The other conclusions include:

  • Potential benefits from the protocol will require political stability and certainty
  • The Stormont Executive should have a more assertive role in maximising Northern Ireland's influence both within the UK and with the EU
  • Both sides have an obligation to consider alternatives to the protocol in the event that the Northern Ireland Assembly does not support the continued operation of its key aspects

Responding to the report, a government spokesperson said they "shared the committee's concern about the significant disruption that the Protocol is causing on the ground in Northern Ireland".

"That is why we published a Command Paper last week, clearly setting out the significant changes that are needed to the Protocol to ensure these arrangements can be sustainable for the future," he said.

"We look forward to engaging in talks with the EU to progress these proposals in the weeks ahead.

"Any durable solution must safeguard the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions, east/west as well as north/south."

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