Thursday 29 July 2021 12:01 am

Lords committee: UK and EU both to blame for Northern Ireland Protocol mess

A House of Lords committee has laid the blame for the mess around the Northern Ireland Protocol at the feet of both the UK and the EU, urging the two to come to a compromise solution.

The Lords’ European Affairs Committee report into the protocol said Brussels needed to implement the protocol in a more “flexible and proportionate manner”.

The committee also said the UK government’s willingness to ignore parts of the protocol and act unilaterally is stopping Brussels from applying the protocol in a more pragmatic way.

Northern Ireland still follows the EU’s custom union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, creating a so-called border in the Irish Sea.

The UK wants the EU to adopt less stringent checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to minimise economic and political disruption, while Brussels does not want unauthorised goods to enter its single market.

Lord Jay of Ewelme, Chair of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Committee, said: “The clear message from our report and the evidence we have heard is that both the UK and the EU need to compromise in the interests of Northern Ireland.

“The tensions over the Protocol currently seem insoluble. Yet that was also true of the political situation during the Troubles. But the peace process ultimately took root and flourished, through a process of time, patience, dialogue, and most of all trust.”

More than 20 per cent of all the EU’s customs checks now happen in Northern Ireland even though those goods only represent a tiny portion of the total entering the EU single market.

This has caused disruption to supply chains and shortages in some supermarkets in Northern Ireland.

It also partly sparked violent rioting in Belfast earlier this year, with some parts of the unionist community furious that the protocol separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The UK last week called for both sides to redraw the protocol in a bid to reduce customs checks, calling for a so-called honesty box approach.

UK-EU minister Lord David Frost wants exporters to be able to declare if their goods are intended only for sale in Northern Ireland and can therefore can skip customs checks.

This would be for things like agrifoods, medicines and pets.

He also called for the European Court of Justice to no longer have the right to oversee the treaty and for an independent arbitration panel to instead take up this role.

The EU has said since that it will not consider renegotiating the terms of the protocol.

The Lords committee said Boris Johnson’s government needed to show it was trustworthy before the EU would accept such an approach.

“In order to maximise the prospect of the EU taking a flexible approach to the implementation of the Protocol, the government needs to rebuild trust by demonstrating its good faith,” it said.

“This requires open and constructive engagement, meetings its legal obligations and fulfilling its outstanding political commitments.”