Brexit is ‘already damaging political stability in the North’

House of Lords EU committee says UK move is exacerbating cross-community divisions

Stormont, in Belfast. A new report will claim that Brexit has already damaged political stability in the North. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Stormont, in Belfast. A new report will claim that Brexit has already damaged political stability in the North. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Brexit is already undermining political stability in Northern Ireland and represents “a fundamental challenge” to the future of the United Kingdom itself, a House of Lords committee will warn on Wednesday.

The EU affairs committee, which says the decision to leave the EU has exacerbated cross-community divisions in the North, calls on the British government to reassure nationalists following the Conservatives’ confidence and supply agreement with the DUP.

The report also identifies the lack of any nationalist MPs at Westminster, because of Sinn Féin’s abstentionist policy, as a factor in the weakness of Northern Ireland’s influence on the Brexit negotiations.

“It . . . appears that the Brexit debate has undermined political stability and exacerbated cross-community divisions, contributing to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive and the calling of an early Assembly election. At the time of writing, the powersharing institutions have yet to be restored,” it says.

“This, together with the appointment of a new Irish Taoiseach, the Conservative-DUP confidence and supply agreement at Westminster, and the fact that no nationalist MPs have taken their seats in the new parliament, has created new uncertainty, underlining the fragility of the political settlement in Northern Ireland.”

British and EU negotiators in Brussels on Tuesday discussed Brexit’s implications for Ireland, including the Common Travel Area, the Border and the Belfast Agreement. Neither side made any comment on the talks.

In a report on Brexit and UK-Irish relations last year, the Lords’ committee proposed a new, bilateral agreement between Britain and Ireland to minimise the impact of Brexit.

The Government rejected that proposal and unionists bristled at the committee’s call for the special status of Northern Ireland to be recognised in Britain’s negotiations with the EU.

Misgivings

Wednesday’s report acknowledges unionist misgivings but argues that Northern Ireland gives rise to unique issues which must be addressed in Brexit talks.

The report, which looks at the impact of Brexit on devolution in the UK, points out that EU law is interwoven with the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“The supremacy of that EU law, and its interpretation by the Court of Justice of the EU, have helped to hold the UK together and maintain the integrity of its internal market. Brexit thus presents fundamental constitutional challenges to the United Kingdom as a whole,” it says.