Brexit transition uncertainty ‘poses threat to stability in Northern Ireland’

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Uncertainty and lack of time before the end of Brexit transition poses a “potent threat” to prosperity and stability in the north of Ireland, a report has warned.

Businesses in Great Britain could decide it is economically unviable to continue operations across the Irish Sea unless flexibility is shown in the EU negotiations, a House of Lords committee warned.

The country will have to follow EU rules on agriculture and manufactured goods, ensuring access to its single market and keeping the border with the Republic of Ireland free-flowing in a key concession maintaining a decades-old peace.

The group of peers said: “The combination of uncertainty, lack of momentum and lack of time, compounded by the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, is a potent threat to economic prosperity and political stability in Northern Ireland.”

The mechanism ensuring the country’s border with the Republic remains open after the Brexit transition period finishes at the end of this year is known as the Northern Ireland Protocol and was agreed between the EU and UK during the Brexit talks.

The UK government published a document attempting to flesh out some detail in May.

It said checks will be needed on some goods entering the north of Ireland from the rest of the UK as part of Brexit but bureaucracy will be kept to a “minimum”.

The House of Lords European Union committee’s report responded: “While some detail was provided, the command paper’s heavy reliance on the future tense underlines how little progress has been made thus far, how many issues remain to be resolved and how much work still needs to be done before the protocol becomes operational on January 1 2021.”

Unless the joint committee of EU and British officials overseeing the process adopted a flexible definition of goods at risk of ending up in the Republic, checks and processes on those moving from Great Britain to the north of Ireland could have a “serious detrimental impact”, the House of Lords review added.

Its report said: “There is a real danger that businesses based in Great Britain could conclude that it is economically unviable to continue to operate in Northern Ireland, leading in turn to reduced choice and higher costs for Northern Ireland consumers, thus undermining Northern Ireland’s economic model, its future prosperity and, potentially, its political stability.”

Ministers said checks will be needed on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK as part of Brexit (Liam McBurney/PA)

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, Northern Irish businesses felt preparing for the protocol to become operational on 1 January next year was a Herculean task, the committee said.

“That task has become even more difficult, given the impact of Covid-19 on the economy and the capacity of individual businesses to cope with the problems confronting them.

“Given its refusal to countenance an extension to the transition period, the government must urgently explain to Northern Ireland stakeholders the practical steps that will be taken to ensure the protocol is operational from January 1 2021.”

It said the joint UK-EU committee will also need to take the changed circumstances arising from the infection into account.

“Clarity on the practical measures that will be necessary to implement the protocol, and the steps that businesses based in or trading with Northern Ireland need to take to prepare, is now required as a matter of acute urgency if damage to the Northern Ireland economy is to be avoided.”

A UK government spokesperson said its priority remains to strengthen the north of Ireland’s place in the UK and preserve the “huge gains” from the peace process and Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

He added: “Our proposals will deliver unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the whole of the UK market, ensuring there are no tariffs on goods remaining within the UK customs territory and no need for any new customs infrastructure in Northern Ireland.

“We are committed to implementing our obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement and have set out the approach that will guide us as we do.”

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  • Show Comments
    1. Trade would be much simpler if Ireland were a united country. The good showing by Sinn Fein in the south, suggests things might be moving in that direction. A united Ireland would be a good thing not only in trade terms. The new Irish government may decide to ban the import of goods from the illegal Israeli settlements. The Irish have been on the receiving end of colonialism and are therefore inclined to disdain it, unlike the Brits. Talk about banning imports from the settlements in the Labour Party and you will branded an anti-Semite and cast out like a leper. That’s what the existence of Ulster is about. It is principally a political bulwark against the anti-colonialism which has significant traction in the South. Ulster was created to prevent the island of Ireland becoming a republican, left of centre society. Leaving the Eu without a deal, ever more likely, may drive more citizens of NI to conclude their future is better served by remaining in the EU. A border poll and unification would create the Ireland that could have been a century ago: an Ireland quite distinct from Britain in its culture and politics. That may be the unwanted result the EU leavers secure. Let’s hope so. A republican, socialist Ireland is just what we need as a foil to a nationalistic, Tory Britain.

      1. Hate to be pedantic, but, Ulster is not a part of the UK. Ulster is a traditional province of Ireland. Ulster was itself Partitioned, with the counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal remaining in what is now referred to, as the Republic Of Ireland.

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