Government needs to face up to its scrutiny obligations over EU legislation applying to Northern Ireland
22 March 2022
The Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland has today published a report on scrutiny of EU legislative proposals within the scope of the Protocol.
- Report: Scrutiny of EU legislative proposals within the scope of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (HTML)
- Report: Scrutiny of EU legislative proposals within the scope of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (PDF)
- Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland
- Over 300 pieces of EU legislation continue to apply to Northern Ireland under the Protocol. The Committee has sent over 90 letters to the Government on over 40 legislative proposals over the past year, across a wide range of policy areas.
- The UK Government must raise its game: far too much Government documentation inadequately explains the implications of EU legislation for Northern Ireland.
- The EU too needs to do better: it must take more seriously the impact of EU law on Northern Ireland.
- Given concerns over a democratic deficit, Northern Ireland stakeholders must have a voice over the application of EU legislation.
The report examines one of the Committee’s key tasks – the scrutiny of EU legislation applying to Northern Ireland under the Protocol. Over 300 pieces of EU legislation continue to apply to Northern Ireland across a range of policy areas, including the movement of plants, animals and products of animal origin, medicines, VAT and State aid. The Protocol also provides for the possible application of new EU legislation to Northern Ireland. In view of the socio-economic and political implications of the Protocol for Northern Ireland, in particular in the context of its relationship with the EU, EU legislation applying to Northern Ireland must be subject to detailed parliamentary scrutiny.
The Committee’s membership, drawn from Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, has a wide range of expertise in Northern Ireland affairs. While some of the Committee support the Protocol (including its application of aspects of EU law to Northern Ireland), others oppose it (and its application of aspects of EU law to Northern Ireland) in principle. The Committee’s conclusions have been unanimously agreed, and are without prejudice to those positions.
The report emphasises the UK Government’s obligation to facilitate the Committee’s scrutiny work. While acknowledging its commitment as far as it goes, the Committee urges the Government to go further, ensuring any new EU legislative proposals within the scope of the Protocol, those relevant to Article 2 (on rights of individuals), and any other proposals with significant implications for Northern Ireland are promptly shared with Parliament. The Committee also expresses concern about the poor quality of Explanatory Memoranda and correspondence received from the Government, and, notwithstanding the ongoing discussions with the EU over the future of the Protocol, stresses the Government’s obligation in the meantime to set out the full implications of EU legislation applying to Northern Ireland under the Protocol as it current operates. It must as a minimum set out for each proposal: the views of the Northern Ireland Executive, business representatives and other stakeholders, and what consultation has taken place with them; the Government’s assessment of the proposal’s merits or otherwise; whether the proposal will lead to regulatory divergence between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and steps necessary to address this; the impact on Northern Ireland’s participation in the UK’s Free Trade Agreements and UK Common Frameworks; and whether and how the proposal will be implemented in domestic law.
Given concerns over a democratic deficit, whereby changes to EU legislation under the Protocol apply without the prior consent of parliamentarians in Stormont or Westminster, the Committee also urges the EU to take urgent steps to enhance transparency around the application of EU law to Northern Ireland, take full account of the impact of EU law on Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances, and engage with Northern Ireland stakeholders at an early stage to give them a voice concerning the application and implications of such legislation.
The Committee further stresses the continuing importance of effective scrutiny of EU legislative proposals by Committees in the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Given their mutual interest in these issues, the Committee welcomes opportunities for enhanced cooperation and inter-parliamentary between Committees in their scrutiny work.