Northern Ireland news

Lords report proves north is at risk of becoming 'permanent casualty' of Brexit

SDLP MP Clare Hanna has welcomed a House of Lords committee report on the NI Protocol. Picture by Liam McBurney.
Paul Ainsworth

THE British government must show commitment to the north by agreeing a solution to the NI Protocol, an MP has warned.

South Belfast SDLP MP Claire Hanna was speaking after British peers heard how failure to do so would leave the north a "permanent casualty" of Brexit.

Ms Hanna welcomed a House of Lords committee report published yesterday that outlined how the government's approach to the ongoing dispute with the EU over trade was "flawed".

Peers said the UK approach had been characterised by a "lack of clarity, transparency and readiness" while the EU had demonstrated a "lack of balance, understanding and flexibility".

They said the EU mistrusts whether the UK is acting in good faith while the UK believes the EU is adopting a disproportionate approach to the implementation of the protocol.

This has led to a "serious deterioration" in relations between London, Belfast, Dublin and Brussels, the report found.

The committee chair, Lord Jay of Ewelme, said it was an absolute necessity that the UK and the EU should now work together urgently "to identify solutions if Northern Ireland is not to become a permanent casualty of the Brexit process".

Ms Hanna said the report was clear that the "optimum solution to post-Brexit friction is a veterinary agreement and that the failure to agree one would show that Northern Ireland is a low priority for the UK government".

"After seven months the time has come to really focus on solutions so that we can allow businesses to plan and to maximise the benefits the protocol offers Northern Ireland," she said.

"I welcome that the committee, which includes the DUP's Nigel Dodds, unanimously concluded that potential benefits from the protocol require political stability - I completely agree.

"It's clear that work is needed to reach solutions, but the UK government cannot expect the EU to rip up an agreement described as ‘oven ready' and ‘a great deal', a year ago. Solutions won't be reached through threats and demands - there are workable and necessary changes but they will only be found in an atmosphere of trust."

Committee member and UUP peer Lord Empey said the report shows the protocol was "vastly out of proportion to the scale of the problem" caused by Brexit.

"Both the UK government and the EU say they are committed to the Belfast Agreement in all its parts. That cannot be true if our community here in Northern Ireland, as the sub-committee's report says, `risks becoming permanent casualties in the post Brexit landscape'.

"Alternatives are out there, and the Ulster Unionist Party has been advocating a different approach. The question is, is there a willingness to set aside the political rhetoric of both the UK and the EU towards each other and genuinely seek a workable alternative?"

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