Memorandum submitted to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee for the Inquiry on UK parliamentary scrutiny of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee and application of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Submission from: Professor Katy Hayward, Professor David Phinnemore and Dr Milena Komarova (Queen’s University Belfast; the views expressed here do not represent those of any institution) (SJC0006)

 

We welcome the European Scrutiny Committee’s Inquiry on UK parliamentary scrutiny of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee and application of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The decisions of the UK-EU Joint Committee, and the work of the Specialised Committee on the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol beneath it, will have direct impact on the future of Northern Ireland.

The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland sets the parameters for Northern Ireland’s ongoing relationship with the EU. Northern Ireland will uniquely be in both the EU and the UK’s internal markets. Effective implementation of the Protocol should bring benefits for Northern Ireland, not least in helping to maintain the conditions for the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and allowing businesses in Northern Ireland to continue to trade freely with the EU’s single market.

But there are also risks of a democratic deficit. The Protocol involves application of the EU Customs Code and dynamic alignment with applicable EU internal market rules, primarily on the free movement of goods. The lack of ability of Northern Ireland’s elected representatives to shape these rules is compounded by a lack of capacity for wider scrutiny of the decisions and work of the Joint Committee, the Specialised Committee and the planned Joint Consultative Working Group.

We wish to draw the attention of the Committee to a research report that we published in May this year: Anticipating and Meeting New Multilevel Governance Challenges in Northern Ireland after Brexit (https://ukandeu.ac.uk/research-papers/anticipating-and-meeting-new-multilevel-governance-challenges-in-northern-ireland-after-brexit/). That report presented the findings and analysis of research conducted over a period of 18 months, beginning in December 2018. Our main research task was to consider how any new governance arrangements that may be put in place for Northern Ireland after Brexit can operate effectively and ensure maximal representation for the region in the operation and implementation of the Protocol. The research is highly original, not only because of the scope and quality of the empirical research conducted (see below), but also because it contains a substantial consideration of how other non-member states and regions seek to have influence at EU level.

The project included desk research and empirical research, including interviews, an online survey, four days of workgroups with input from c.100 stakeholders, and an expert-practitioner seminar. Our stakeholder workgroups covered the sectors most directly affected by the implementation of the Protocol (e.g. transport, agri-food, hospitality, immigrant communities). Participating stakeholders included: civil servants from key departments and agencies in Northern Ireland who would be engaged in the operation of the Protocol, cross-border bodies including Implementation Bodies, private sector representation across a wide range of industries and across the region, human rights bodies, trade unions, the voluntary sector, and local authorities. We also conducted semi-structured interviews with representatives from the Secretariat of the European Free Trade Association and delegations/offices to the EU from countries such as Switzerland, Turkey, Norway and San Marino.

Northern Ireland is at risk of being subject to legislation coming from both Brussels and London without having full sight or scrutiny of it, let alone a chance to shape or object to those decisions. There is no automatic means by which Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions will either be able effectively to scrutinise and shape EU law they need to ‘download’ or to ‘upload’ views into the EU and the Protocol’s institutional arrangements.

The report contained some 80 recommendations for the post-Brexit governance of Northern Ireland in light of the Protocol. On the basis of this research we wish to highlight four main points for consideration by the Committee, with a specific consideration of the matter of scrutiny.

 

 

 

The greater the opportunity for scrutiny over and input into the arrangements of the Protocol from Northern Ireland, the greater the sense of legitimacy of the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland. Given the sense of insecurity and resentment that all political sides have in Northern Ireland vis-à-vis Brexit and the Protocol, such conditions are essential and need to be fostered as a priority. We see this as imperative for the peace process, the maintenance of which depends on the effective operation of ‘democratic and peaceful means’ of politics.

 

4