What a surprise! Brussels ‘acting like absentee landlord’ over Brexit in Northern Ireland

Brexit: Northern Ireland treated ‘different’ says DUP’s Paisley

Katy Hayward, a professor of sociology at Queen’s University in Belfast and a former adviser to the Brexit department said Brussels had insisted Northern Ireland’s post-conflict peace process was put at the centre of trade negotiations. But she said EU officials had since taken a “one-dimensional” approach which did not serve the region well when it came to ensuring the new system was running smoothly.

There has been this sense of an absentee landlord

Prof Katy Hayward

Prof Hayward said: “The protocol is not an easy thing to start up with a click of the fingers.

“But there has been this sense of an absentee landlord with all these rules coming into play and with no means of direct engagement to help manage the consequences of it.

“The main concern of the European Commission has been to demonstrate and prove to other member states that the single market is being protected.

“Such a one-dimensional approach had been a misfit for Northern Ireland.”

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Prof Hayward said more than 20 committees and bodies were supposed to have been set up to under the terms of the Brexit trade deal to help maintain a post-Brexit relationship on everything from fishing to energy supplies and aviation deals.

She said around a dozen more were due to be created following the signing of the Northern Ireland Protocol a year ago but the failure to do so, has sparked the rising tensions which led to the withdrawal of Brexit staff at Northern Irish ports last week.

A key working consultative group to keep the UK-EU joint committee overseeing the implementation of Brexit informed was never set up which is why restrictions on food, pets and plants have been so rigorously applied.

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Article 6.2 of the protocol explicitly allows for the easing of controls at ports and states Northern Ireland’s “integral place in the United Kingdom’s internal market” must be respected while “best endeavours to facilitate trade between Northern Ireland and the other parts of the UK” are made.

It also stipulates that ease of trade between Northern Ireland and the UK, should be kept under constant review and the joint committee can make “appropriate recommendations with a view to avoiding controls at the ports and the airports of Northern Ireland to the extent possible”.

Prof Hayward said: “The hope would be that those EU observers could recognise the nature of the situation and would be able to see where there could be flexibility and pragmatism.”

The UK Government and European Commission are due to hold further talks aimed at finding solutions in the coming week.

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has suggested extending a series of grace periods which are currently in operation to limit the level of red tape associated with the protocol.

The Government wants to extend these exemption periods, some of which are due to expire at the end of March, to January 2023 in order to provide space to find permanent solutions.

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Irish foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he would be open to limited extensions but he made clear there could be no renegotiation of the protocol’s terms.

He said: “Certainly I would be open to advocating for modest extensions of grace periods when appropriate to try to, first of all, reassure people that we’re listening to them in Northern Ireland, because we are, and then, secondly, so that we can ensure that businesses can operate as best they can under the protocol.

“But that’s not the same thing as scrapping the protocol and it’s important to make a strong distinction between the two.”

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