Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol: Scrutiny of EU Legislative Proposals (European Affairs Committee Sub-Committee Report) Debate

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Department: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol: Scrutiny of EU Legislative Proposals (European Affairs Committee Sub-Committee Report)

Lord Liddle Excerpts
Friday 20th January 2023

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle (Lab)
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My Lords, as a member of the European Affairs Committee, I add my thanks for all the work that the noble Lord, Lord Jay, does on the Northern Ireland protocol sub-committee and for the excellent work of Stuart Stoner and his officials. They work really hard and do their best in a very difficult situation.

We are dealing with a world of second-bests here—possibly third-bests. I have great respect for the views of the unionists that these changes have been imposed on Northern Ireland without cross-community consent. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bew, was the first person who pointed that out to us in this Chamber; it is a fact that this has happened. But there is now no going back to the status quo as it was before Brexit. Brexit has altered everything. It has fundamentally altered relations on the island of Ireland and there is no way that we can go back to where we were as a United Kingdom prior to that.

However, I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, that the European Commission has not approached this question in the most tactful manner. From my experience of working in the Commission, I say that it sees its role, fundamentally, as protecting the competencies of the EU in trade and the single market. It has looked at the Irish question from that very narrow institutionalist perspective and has not taken into account as fully as it should the complexities of the Northern Ireland situation. Do noble Lords think that our Government actually pointed that out? Boris Johnson certainly did not; he was only too anxious to sign off on this protocol agreement in order to “get Brexit done”. He did not give a—sorry, I was about to swear there. He did not care one little bit for Northern Ireland. That should be borne in mind.

How do we make the best of this bad job? We must work much harder at getting effective mechanisms working between the Northern Ireland people, the Assembly and its stakeholders, and the European Commission. The situation requires dynamic alignment, but that has to be done in a way where the views of the people in Northern Ireland are fully taken into account. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, suggested, and I think that there should be a regular consultative forum, where senior people from the Commission go to Belfast and listen to and debate the views of politicians from all parts of Northern Ireland. I am a member of the new UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, and we should establish a sub-committee that brings together Northern Ireland politicians and MEPs on a regular basis. That would be very constructive.

We must recognise that this is the world of the second-best and there is no going back to what it was before Brexit.