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Implications of the backstop and 'no-deal' preparations inquiry launched

19 December 2018

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee launches an inquiry into the implications of the Government's Withdrawal Agreement for Northern Ireland, with a focus on mechanisms for avoiding the backstop.

Implications of the EU Withdrawal agreement and the backstop for Northern Ireland

The Government's Brexit agreement sets out plans for the UK's "orderly withdrawal" from the EU and starts the clock on a 21-month transition period in which a future relationship between the UK and the EU must be established. The Withdrawal Agreement includes a controversial provision known as the “Irish backstop” which is intended to prevent a hard border forming between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the event that the future UK-EU relationship is not secured in time.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee published its report on the land border in March, before the text of the Withdrawal Agreement was agreed with the EU. In this new inquiry, the Committee will examine the implications of the Government's Withdrawal Agreement for Northern Ireland, as well as the state of no-deal planning in Northern Ireland.

The Committee is seeking written evidence on four separate issues arising from the Agreement:

  • How implementation of the backstop would work in practice for Northern Ireland.
  • Scrutiny of the mechanisms in the Withdrawal Agreement which govern implementation of the backstop.
  • What steps need to be taken during the implementation period to secure an overall EU-UK deal which removes the need for the backstop.
  • Northern Ireland's preparedness for a no deal Brexit.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Committee, Dr Andrew Murrison MP, said:

"The backstop has emerged as a central concern in the Government's Brexit agreement and uncertainties remain about the effectiveness of no-deal planning. My Committee's inquiry will explore the implications of the agreement for Northern Ireland."

Terms of Reference

The Committee is inviting written evidence submissions on the following points. The deadline was 5pm on Thursday 31 January.

(I) The impact of implementing the backstop in Northern Ireland

  • What goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would require extra checks from day one of the backstop?
    o Where would these checks be carried out and by whom?
    o What additional, if any, infrastructure and resources would need to be put in place to carry out these checks?
  • How would trade in services between Great Britain and Northern Ireland be affected by the backstop?
  • Would goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Ireland undergo any additional checks or customs processes under the backstop?
  • What steps, if any, do businesses need to take to prepare for implementation of the backstop?
  • What, if any, additional costs would Northern Ireland businesses face when trading with Ireland under the backstop arrangements?
  • What lessons can be learnt from the EU-Turkey customs union about the "single customs territory" set out in the Withdrawal Agreement?
  • How will supervision and enforcement of EU rules in Northern Ireland differ under the backstop from the current regime?
    o In which areas could the UK be required to make financial contributions to the EU as a consequence of the backstop being operational?

(II) Scrutiny of the Withdrawal Agreement mechanisms

  • How should the views of Northern Ireland be represented on the Joint Committee?
    o In the continued absence of devolved Northern Ireland Ministers, should UK politicians or Northern Ireland civil servants represent Northern Ireland?
  • On what basis will the Joint Committee determine conditions and quantitative terms on which Northern Ireland fisheries products can enter the EU market?
  • To what extent can the Joint Committee behave dynamically to develop the backstop during its implementation?
  • How will membership of the Specialised Committee on the Northern Ireland Protocol be constituted?
    o Should consideration be given to cross-community representation?
  • How will the Joint Working Group on Northern Ireland be constituted?
    o Should consideration be given to cross-community representation?
  • What lessons can be learnt about the mechanisms in the Withdrawal Agreement from the experience of the Eastern Partnership countries, Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, who have association treaties with the EU?
  • To what extent does the Article 20 review clause provide an exit route from the backstop?
  • If the backstop is triggered, should Northern Ireland maintain some representation on EU bodies in recognition of the fact it would be subject to a greater level of EU supervision and control?
  • What conditions would be required to extend the transition period in lieu of triggering the backstop?
    o What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?
    o How would the UK's agreed financial contribution to the EU budget be affected by this decision?

(III) Securing an overall EU-UK relationship which supersedes the Withdrawal Agreement and obviates the need to enter the backstop

  • What can we learn from the Ukrainian association agreement about fast tracking treaty negotiations with the EU?
  • To what extent can technical solutions obviate the need for NI regulatory alignment with the EU in the policy areas set out in Annex 5?
  • Which aspects of Annex 5 could the UK unilaterally adopt to reduce barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland whilst maintaining an independent trade policy?
  • How can the future UK-EU relationship protect integrated supply chains across the island of Ireland?
  • What does the mapping exercise, which identifies protected areas of North-South cooperation, tell us about the future shape of the UK-EU deal in respect of Northern Ireland?
  • What does the framework outlined in the Political Declaration for the future UK-EU relationship tell us about how cross-border trade in Northern Ireland will operate?
  • Would the ‘Norway option' meet the conditions set out in protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland?
    o If not, what additions would be required to the Norway model?

(IV) No deal

  • In a no deal scenario, what are the key actions the Government must take in advance of 29 March 2019 to prepare Northern Ireland?
  • To what extent has the Government worked with businesses in Northern Ireland to make contingency plans for a no deal scenario?
    o What has been the impact of the Government's technical notices on no deal?
  • In a no deal scenario, what scope is there for the UK to make a series of mini-deals with Ireland to manage cross-border issues?
  • What would trade under World Trade Organisation terms mean for Northern Ireland?
  • How could the lives of ordinary citizens in Northern Ireland be affected during the first three months of a “managed no deal”?
    o What steps, if any, should Northern Ireland citizens take to prepare?

The closing date for written submissions was Thursday 31 January 2019 at 5pm

  • Send a written submission to the Implications of the EU withdrawal agreement and the backstop for Northern Ireland inquiry

Further information

Image: PA