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Committee writes to Foreign Secretary with findings of its inquiry into Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

22 November 2022

The House of Lords Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/ Northern Ireland has today written to the Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, with findings of its inquiry into the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill currently before the House of Lords. The letter sets out the evidence and arguments received in both oral and written evidence on all sides of the debate, relating to the economic, political and legal impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and of the Bill itself.


As part of its inquiry into the Bill, the Committee held 11 evidence sessions with business and community representatives, academics, legal experts and political commentators. It visited Newry and Belfast in October, when it met local business and community representatives, and representatives of the five largest political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee also received nearly 40 submissions of written evidence from a wide range of stakeholders and experts.

The Committee asks the Foreign Secretary for a response to its letter by 9 December 2022, and invites him to give evidence to the Committee before Christmas to inform the House’s further scrutiny of the Bill.

The letter

In the letter, the Committee sets out the key findings, under the following headings:

The economic context

  • The Committee invites the Government to share its analysis of the overall economic impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, in terms of Northern Ireland’s trade with a) the rest of the UK; b) Ireland; and c) the rest of the EU.
  • The Committee heard evidence from business representatives such as the road haulage sector of the damaging economic impact of the Protocol on East-West trade, and from representatives such as the dairy sector of the Protocol’s beneficial impact on North-South trade.
  • The Committee notes the statistical evidence of the larger volume of Northern Ireland’s trade with the rest of the UK compared to that with Ireland and the EU as a whole. In that context, the Committee seeks reassurance that the Bill, in its attempts to deal with the problems with East-West trade, will not damage the benefits some businesses perceive in terms of North-South trade and trade with the EU.
  • The Committee calls for further information on the practicalities of the proposed dual regulatory regime and red and green lanes, including the impact on East-West and North-South trade, the infrastructure, resourcing and costs required, and how market enforcement will work.

The political context

  • The Committee heard a wide range of perspectives on the UK’s unilateral action through the Bill, the EU’s response and obligations, and the prospects for a negotiated solution. While some defended the Government’s actions in bringing forward the Bill as a necessary step to correct the damage caused by the Protocol, others argued that unilateral action was counter-productive, and that an agreement with the EU was the only solution. Some stressed that the Government should pause the Bill’s passage to allow dialogue to take place, while others argued that the EU should avoid an inflexible approach to talks while the Bill is subject to parliamentary proceedings.
  • The Committee welcomes that discussions between the UK and the EU have recommenced, and asks the Foreign Secretary for an update on the progress of discussions with the EU. The Committee asks whether a staged approach will build momentum and confidence between the two sides. The Committee also seeks clarity on the number of technical and ministerial meetings between the UK and EU since February 2022.
  • On the impact of the Bill on community relations, the Committee stresses the importance of acknowledging and responding to the concerns of all communities in Northern Ireland. It is crucial that both the UK and the EU enhance their engagement with stakeholders in Northern Ireland, including business, civic society and political representatives, to assure them that the issues in relation to the Protocol are being resolved with their full co-operation and involvement, rather than being imposed on them.
  • The Committee acknowledges that tensions within the communities of Northern Ireland have risen in the context of Brexit and the Protocol, and asks what practical steps the Government will take to work with community representatives and organisations to address this. The Committee asks if the Government will consider engaging jointly with the EU and Northern Ireland stakeholders in order to reach a common understanding of the challenges under the Protocol and the solutions needed to overcome them.

The legal implications of the Bill

  • The Committee invites the Foreign Secretary to respond to the wide range of views put to it on the Government’s legal justification for the Bill, including the doctrine of necessity.
  • The Committee notes that the role of the CJEU may be the most difficult issue to resolve in discussions with the EU. It asks the Foreign Secretary what, if any, scope for compromise exists between the UK and EU positions. It also asks what impact the Bill’s provisions will have on the operation of the Single Electricity Market on the island of Ireland. 
  • The Committee seeks responses to specific concerns raised by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland about the impact of the Bill on Article 2 of the Protocol, on rights of individuals. 

Chair’s comments

The Chair of the Committee, Lord Jay of Ewelme, said:

“The Committee is extremely grateful to all businesses, local community members, political leaders and stakeholders it has met and spoken to throughout the course of its inquiry. The personal experiences and insight that we heard, in particular during our visit to Newry and Belfast, are crucial  to our understanding and analysis of the impact of the Protocol, and of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, on the people, businesses and communities of Northern Ireland.

“Amid all of the tensions and uncertainty of recent years, the people of Northern Ireland must now be put first. Our message is simple: the UK and the EU, together with the political parties in Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland stakeholders and the Irish Government, must all make a renewed commitment to work together to prioritise Northern Ireland’s interests, participate together in constructive engagement, rebuild trust, and engage in effective relationship-building, in order to resolve the issues that have arisen in relation to the Protocol.”

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