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Time running out to provide certainty for Northern Ireland, Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol report finds

1 June 2020

The House of Lords EU Select Committee has today published its report on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.


The agreement of the revised Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in October 2019 paved the way for the UK to leave the EU on 31 January 2020. Yet the months since then have been characterised by uncertainty. On the one hand, the UK Government has been unable to explain precisely or consistently what it agreed with the EU. On the other hand, the EU's insistence that 'the rules are the rules' has left Northern Ireland businesses fearing that there will be no flexibility to apply the Protocol proportionately. This has led to a diminution of trust between the two sides, with the upshot that Northern Ireland has felt like "a pawn in the game".

The Committee's 100 page report provides a detailed guide to the Protocol. It focuses in particular on the tension at its heart. Article 4 states that Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the UK, and is reinforced by Article 6, which states that nothing in the Protocol shall prevent the UK from ensuring unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to other parts of the UK. But these are off-set by Article 5, which applies the entirety of EU customs legislation, including the Union Customs Code, to Northern Ireland, and which retains a single regulatory zone for goods on the island of Ireland, in order to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. This requires the imposition of new customs processes and regulatory checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Businesses are concerned about the burden that this will create,

The report warns that time is running out for the Government to provide certainty to Northern Ireland business and stakeholders before the Protocol becomes operational on 1 January 2021. Without clear and prompt guidance from the Government, and a proportionate approach to the application of the Protocol by the EU, there remains a real and present danger of Northern Ireland becoming collateral damage of Brexit.

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