A Committee of MPs has found the Ireland/ Northern Ireland Protocol to be ‘untenable’ if it is not ‘repaired, replaced or removed.’
Analysis published by the European Scrutiny Committee of the European Commission’s 2022 Work Programme, which outlines the EU’s law-making priorities for the coming 12 months, identified at least 29 proposals which Northern Ireland will or most likely will have to follow in the years ahead.
These laws would be made with little or no input from the UK Parliament or the NI Assembly. The Commission’s priorities, as listed, potentially impacting Northern Ireland include: subsidy rules; product standards; environmental regulations; supply and approval of medicines; regulation of trade; and taxation and duties.
These findings are hardly surprising in view of the implications of the Protocol as they unfold; even as the ‘grace period’ continues.
Should UK and EU law likely diverge as the EU introduces and follows fresh legislation post-Brexit, Northern Ireland businesses and the community could find themselves in the position of having to adhere to and implement two sets of rules, depending on the origin and destination of the goods they are trading.
Rising costs for administration will grow. Inevitably they will be passed on. MPs on the Committee are concerned that there is little that can be done if the UK Government were minded to reject the proposals while the current form of the Protocol remains.
The European Scrutiny Committee which conducts regular analysis of new and proposed EU laws and the impact that they would have on Northern Ireland, trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and trade between the UK and the European Union has identified the following as particular areas of concern:
- Supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland: the compromise package offered by EU negotiators to the UK to ensure medicines in GB are available to people in Northern Ireland could see access to new drugs approved in the UK removed from NI after 6 months if they are not also authorised in the EU in this time. The Committee also highlights the possibility that the proposals may constrain the UK’s ability to choose its own rules and regulations on medicines.
- EU trade preferences for developing countries: Both the EU and the UK give developing countries preferential, often tariff-free, access for goods to their markets. However, after Brexit, businesses in Northern Ireland importing from qualifying countries will now need to look out for two sets of rule changes, the first by the UK later this year, and the second from the EU in 2024.
Many readers will be familiar with the fable, attributed to Buddhism and other religions, of the six men wearing blindfolds who encounter an elephant for the first time and feeling only one part of the animal each, fail to agree what it is.
Feeling only the tusk, one identifies it as a spear whilst another feeling the side claims it as a wall with yet another identifying the tail as a rope. Each is convinced they are right. Inability to see the complete picture and ‘blinded loyalty to one’s own view’, results in disagreement, distrust and conflict.
Is there need to state the obvious?
We are living in a moment where, with the Protocol not yet fully implemented, and its complexity not fully or effectively analysed, priorities gravitate around the cost of living, health and employment.
The Committee Report, worth a read in full, makes clear that the Protocol will potentially impact on all of these areas.
The noise which currently pertains to perceived constitutional implications of the Protocol may soon reverberate more to growing dissatisfaction over medicines, legislation without representation, growing divergence and disruption impacting on investment and access to trade.
The Protocol is the elephant in the room where we should be planning and building a better future for all. Interested parties and vested interests in Brussels, London, Dublin, Belfast and Washington, where a grandstanding and threatening Nancy Pelosi is not helpful, need to remove the blindfolds of misplaced agendas; to solve current and avoid future problems – economic, social and communal.
Relying on an impending election, shaping up as unlikely to provide a solution to a flawed Protocol whatever the results, seems a forlorn hope.
Terry Wright is a former member of the UUP who, in addition to inter- and intra-community activities works independently to promote Civic Unionism.