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Committee writes to Government on democratic deficit and Article 2 of Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

16 December 2021

The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee has today written to Lord Frost on the democratic deficit under the Protocol and ways to enhance Northern Ireland’s voice and influence. The Committee has also written separately to Northern Ireland Office Minister, Conor Burns MP, about the provisions of Article 2 of the Protocol, on rights of individuals. The Committee has asked the Government to respond to both letters by 17 January 2022.

The democratic deficit 

The Committee’s letter on the democratic deficit follows an invitation from the UK Government to set out the Committee’s views on ways to enhance Northern Ireland’s voice and influence in relation to the Protocol. The Committee does so by building on the Committee’s own initial analysis in its introductory report published in July, analysing the proposals in the Government’s July Command Paper on the Northern Ireland Protocol – the way forward and the Commission’s October ‘non-paper’ on Engagement with Northern Ireland stakeholders and authorities, and assessing proposals put to the Committee by Northern Ireland stakeholders and experts during the autumn.

The Committee’s main conclusions are as follows:

  • The Protocol, as a consequence of Brexit, has created a democratic deficit, in that significant aspects of EU law apply to Northern Ireland, subject neither to UK participation in the EU institutions, nor to prior parliamentary consent.
  • Steps to enhance Northern Ireland’s voice and influence in relation to the Protocol are necessary, albeit insufficient in and of themselves to remove the democratic deficit.
  • The Committee regrets the lack of specific proposals to address this issue in the Government’s Command Paper, and calls on the Government, in full consultation with Northern Ireland stakeholders, to bring forward such proposals.
  • The EU’s proposals for enhanced engagement and transparency are welcome, as far as they go. However, the proposals are insufficient to resolve the issue.
  • Although they too mitigate rather than resolve the issue, the Committee welcomes constructive proposals from Northern Ireland stakeholders to enhance transparency around the application of EU law to Northern Ireland, mutual understanding of Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances, and engagement with Northern Ireland businesses, civic society and political institutions. However, more formalised mechanisms for engagement with the EU institutions would be politically contentious.

Article 2 (rights of individuals) 

The Committee has written separately to Rt Hon Conor Burns MP, Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office, on the application of Article 2, on the rights of individuals. The letter is the latest in a chain of correspondence with the Northern Ireland Office arising from oral and written evidence received from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The Committee welcomes the Government’s continued commitment to Article 2, and to working with the two Commissions in their roles within the ‘dedicated mechanism framework’ for upholding Article 2, and:

  • Seeks clarity on how Article 2 interacts with the devolution settlement and how it maps onto the balance of responsibilities between the Northern Ireland Executive and UK Government.
  • Seeks assurance that adequate levels of resourcing for the two Commissions will be maintained.
  • Invites the Government to set out how it will intensify its engagement with the public in relation to their rights under Article 2.
  • Asks how engagement by the two Commissions with the UK-EU governance bodies under the Protocol will be facilitated.
  • Invites the Government to respond to concerns over the implications of a divergence in equality or human rights between Northern Ireland, Great Britain and Ireland.
  • Asks how concerns arising from the Protocol over assistance dogs travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and over access to Kosher or halal food, will be resolved.
  • Asks what assessment the Government has made of the interaction between its proposals to reform the Human Rights Act and the provisions of Article 2 and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

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