Lords committee urges Britain and EU to resolve differences over NI protocol

New cross-party group calls for negotiation and accuses both sides of lack of flexibility

Former DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds (C) member of cross-party House of Lords committee. Photograph: Tolga Akmentolga Akmen/AFP/Getty

Former DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds (C) member of cross-party House of Lords committee. Photograph: Tolga Akmentolga Akmen/AFP/Getty

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A cross-party House of Lords committee has called on Britain and the European Union to act urgently to resolve their differences over the Northern Ireland protocol, accusing both sides of showing a lack of flexibility.

In a report published today, the recently-formed committee on the protocol, which includes former political leaders from Northern Ireland, said London and Brussels had both contributed to a lack of trust surrounding the negotiations.

It says the EU’s rigidity in seeking to maintain the integrity of the single market and customs union, combined with the British government’s apparent reluctance to accept its obligations under the protocol, and indeed the consequences of its own policy choices, have led to a mutual lack of trust, hindering the ability to identify and implement solutions.

“If urgent steps are not taken to restore trust, Northern Ireland is destined to become a casualty of the post-Brexit serious deterioration in relations between the UK and the EU,” the report says.

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The EU agreed this week to pause legal action against Britain over the protocol after Boris Johnson’s government called for a standstill period to facilitate a wide-ranging renegotiation of the agreement. Mr Johnson wants all British-made goods destined for Northern Ireland to be exempt from checks, to introduce a dual regulatory system in place of the EU regulatory regime, and to remove the oversight rule of European Courts.

Committee chairman Michael Jay, a former head of Britain’s diplomatic service, described the British government’s proposals as “somewhat imaginative”, adding that it was difficult to see them being agreed exactly as they are now. But he said the difficulties created in Northern Ireland by the protocol meant both sides would have to make concessions.

“There does have to be a negotiation. Whether you call it a renegotiation of the protocol, you know, that’s up to you. But there’s going to have to be a serious negotiation. And that means there’s going to have to be some movement on the side of the British government and some movement on the side of the European Union,” he told The Irish Times.

The committee’s members include former DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, former UUP leader Reg Empey, former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie, former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain, former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan and former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan.

The report says that, although the protocol has disrupted trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, it also offers potential economic opportunities that will take time to bear fruit.

It calls on Britain and the EU to reach a veterinary agreement that respects each side’s concerns about regulatory autonomy and says that the democratic deficit inherent in the protocol should be mitigated by increasing Northern Ireland’s influence within the UK and the EU.