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Further clarity needed on NI business and trade in UK's protocol plan, EU House of Lords committee says

It has been nearly two weeks since the UK published its proposal for the Northern Ireland protocol.

A billboard advocating against an Irish hard border in Jonesborough, Northern Ireland in January this year.
A billboard advocating against an Irish hard border in Jonesborough, Northern Ireland in January this year.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

THE CONCERNS OF businesses in Northern Ireland were not sufficiently addressed in the UK’s protocol plan for trade within the island of Ireland and the UK after the Brexit transition period, the EU committee in the British House of Lords has said.

Today the committee published its report on the protocol. It said the British government’s proposal “failed to provide the clarity that Northern Ireland needs”. 

Almost two weeks ago, the UK published its proposal for the Northern Ireland protocol and how trade could operate between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland and Great Britain after the Brexit transition period.  

The House of Lords committee is now asking the British government and the EU to address the concerns of businesses in NI about customs processing on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland.

It said that uncertainty and lack of time, combined with the “shock” of the pandemic, pose a “potent threat to economic prosperity and political stability” in the North.    

The committee said the British government has yet to explain what any new customs checks and regulatory processes on goods moving from Britain to NI will mean for businesses and transport providers.

Speaking on the day the protocol proposal was released, senior British minister Michael Gove told the House of Commons that the “command paper” implements the protocol “in a way that will protect the people and economy of Northern Ireland”.

The main aspects of the proposal focus on unfettered access from NI to the rest of the UK, no tariffs on goods going from Britain to NI, no new customs infrastructure and preferential tariffs from any new free trade agreements the UK makes with other countries. 

However, there will be declaration on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The UK left the European Union in January this year and it is due to enter a new relationship, if an agreement is formed, on 1 January next year. 

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Chair of the House of Lords EU committee, Lord Kinnoull, said it is still not clear what the protocol plan will mean for businesses operating in or trading with NI seven months ahead of it potentially taking effect.

“Two weeks ago, the government published a command paper to explain its approach to the protocol,” he said.

But while it addresses the right areas, it’s almost all in the future tense. Northern Ireland needs practical action now, not jam tomorrow.

Kinnoull said the committee warned in 2016 of the danger of NI becoming “collateral damage”of Brexit.

He added that the EU and the British government need to “urgently” work together to provide clear guidance and a “proportionate approach” to applying the protocol.

“Failure on either side would threaten Northern Ireland’s prosperity and stability,” he said.  

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