Businesses not raising concerns over ECJ oversight, says industry group in North

UK’s push to remove EU judges as final arbiter of protocol seen as ‘Brexit purity issue’

Northern Ireland businesses have not raised any issues about the European Court of Justice's (ECJ) oversight of post-Brexit trade rules, an industry group has said, calling UK government concerns a "Brexit purity issue".

The UK government wants the oversight role over Northern Ireland post-Brexit trade rules removed from the EU's highest court. Britain's Brexit minister David Frost will claim in a speech on Tuesday that it has "created a deep imbalance in the way the protocol operates".

Northern Ireland remains under some EU rules after the UK left the EU in order to prevent a hard border re-emerging on the island of Ireland. The European Commission considers the role of the ECJ as a final arbiter on trade disputes between the EU and UK as a red line issue.

Irish Ministers Simon Coveney and Thomas Byrne have said Northern Irish businesses have made no complaints about the ECJ's oversight role of the Northern Ireland protocol, a part of the Brexit agreement reached between the EU and the UK.


"In all the months since the whole operational plan of the protocol was agreed and throughout this year no one in business has raised the issue of the ECJ oversight as a problem for them in my presence," said Stephen Kelly, chief executive of business representative group Manufacturing NI. "It is purely a political and sovereignty issue, and not a practical or business issue."

He pointed out that businesses depend on the protocol and ECJ oversight in order to sell into the EU single market because under its terms “a qualified person” has the responsibility to sign off on products to ensure they are legitimate and authorised under EU regulations.

“It is our understanding that in the 10 months of the protocol there has been no ECJ influence requests, cases or anything else to do with any of the protocol, so it is not even an active issue, never mind anything else,” he said. “All of this confirms this isn’t a business issue; this is a Brexit purity issue.”

EU issues

Corporate lawyer Richard Gray, a partner with Belfast law practice Carson McDowell, which advises on EU issues, said concerns about ECJ oversight have not featured in any queries from the firm's clients nor is he aware of any business organisations raising it on behalf of their companies.

Cases concerning Northern Ireland trade coming before the ECJ as “the court of ultimate appeal” under the protocol were more likely to be about resolving disputes between the EU and the UK over the operation of the protocol rather than disputes between businesses, he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times