Nigel Dodds: We need urgent clarity needed from London on its attitude towards EU laws in Northern Ireland

A letter from the Rt Hon Lord Dodds of Duncairn:

By Letters
Monday, 6th September 2021, 1:17 pm
Updated Monday, 6th September 2021, 1:35 pm
If a hard border in any shape or form is unacceptable between Northern Ireland and the Republic then it is unacceptable East-West
If a hard border in any shape or form is unacceptable between Northern Ireland and the Republic then it is unacceptable East-West

At the weekend Lord Frost made a highly significant speech to the British Irish Association.

The context of the speech is the publication of the UK government’s Command Paper back in July.

The content of the speech is one that begs number of questions.

First on context, it is frankly alarming that there have been no substantive negotiations between the UK government and the EU and that Lord Frost has not even spoken to his counterpart since July. This matter is urgent.

Back in late January when the EU said it was triggering Article 16 we were told in a number of terse meetings with the British government that this matter would be dealt with by the beginning of the summer.

The elongation of this crisis is in no one’s interests and the summer deadline has now passed.

So far there have been a series of technical discussions but proper negotiations could drag on for many months.

Northern Ireland cannot afford the luxury of more months of ever greater diversion of trade, more economic and political instability, and a shortening window before the Assembly elections.

As the end of more so-called grace periods looms into sight more patchwork temporary sticking plaster extensions will not suffice.

Secondly on content, Lord Frost’s speech is good in many parts but it raises a number of questions requiring urgent clarification.

His acknowledgement that the government under Theresa May got it wrong with its infamous backstop proposals is correct.

Some revisionists now claim that her backstop was some sort of great deal for unionists when in fact, as we pointed out all along, the backstop contained a regulatory border down the Irish Sea and only some rickety temporary customs alignment arrangements.

He is also right in his acknowledgement that the problems arise because of the implementation of the protocol not because of lack of implementation.

Those defenders of the protocol who call for its rigorous implementation are now left with serious questions to answer.

It is also right to point out that it is in everyone’s interests to have as much economic partnership and co operation as possible.

He rightly highlights the continuing gross imbalance in the current protocol which prioritises north-south relationships way above the stability of the assembly and its consent mechanisms as well as East-West relations.

Significantly, while Lord Frost talks about Article 16 he recognises its limitations and rightly argues that the government is working on the basis of Article 13(8) of the Protocol ie. a subsequent agreement.

However this is where we get into the weeds of the issue.

Substantial and significant change is required, as Lord Frost says, however he goes on to say that under his proposal there will be controls in the Irish Sea for “certain purposes”, and that EU laws can still be valid within “certain circumstances in Northern Ireland”.

He adds that it is not about sweeping away all existing arrangements.

Here is the crux.

What exactly are these “purposes” and what exactly are the “circumstances” in which EU law can still be valid?

If the British government is prepared to go so far as to seek renegotiation under Article 13 then they need to be prepared to go all the way in removing the applicability of EU laws in Northern Ireland and controls in the Irish Sea.

Or is it that they are only going to apply to goods destined for the Irish Republic?

If they apply to goods or products for Northern Ireland or produced here, then the question will be why?

If a hard border in any shape or form is unacceptable between Northern Ireland and the Republic then it is unacceptable East-West.

The devil as always is in the detail and it remains to be seen what the government means by these caveats. Urgent work is now needed to seek clarification and to ensure that when the British government enters negotiations it is has a clear vision for what is required and what will work to restore stability in Northern Ireland.

Nigel Dodds (Rt Hon Lord Dodds of Duncairn), House of Lords

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