The EU and the UK have both taken a “fundamentally flawed” approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
A House of Lords committee said there had been a lack of clarity, transparency and readiness on the part of the British government, and they criticised the EU for lacking “obvious balance, understanding and flexibility”. The committee concluded both sides needed to be prepared to compromise.
Committee chairman Lord Jay of Ewelme said it was an “absolute necessity” that the UK and EU urgently worked together to ensure Northern Ireland did not become a “permanent casualty of the Brexit process.” He added that the political qualities of “patience, dialogue and most of all, trust”, which had been seen during the Northern Ireland peace process – needed to come to the fore.
The UK and EU agreed the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. It prevents a hard border in Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods.
A cross-party Lords committee including former SDLP leader Baroness Ritchie and former Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Lord Dodds has been examining the operation of the protocol which has steadily led to difficulties and increased costs when transporting goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Unionists say it also undermines Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.
The report has been unanimously agreed by the committee members. Both sides have proposed an agri-food agreement, a so-called Swiss-style proposal from the EU, which would involve the UK following EU rules and an ‘equivalence’ plan from the UK.
The Lords said:
“Failure to reach a deal on this issue would show that Northern Ireland’s political and economic stability is a lower priority for both than maintaining their respective red lines”.