Brexit & Beyond Newsletter

28 February 2022

Welcome to the 28 February 2022 Brexit & Beyond newsletter

Queen’s University has published its latest poll on attitudes in Northern Ireland to the Protocol. Scrutiny of Common Frameworks continue, while stakeholders have raised regulatory differences between GB and NI under the Protocol. A refreshed Interparliamentary Forum has been established and will facilitate dialogue between parliaments on Brexit-related matters.


QUB poll on attitudes to the Protocol

Queen’s University Belfast has published the results of its latest poll (the fourth since March 2021) on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The poll shows that opinion among voters in Northern Ireland on the Protocol continues to be deeply divided. 50% agree or strongly agree that the Protocol is on balance a good thing for NI, while 41% disagree or strongly disagree. Few respondents (8%) are neutral on the question. As in previous polls, respondents report high levels of distrust in political actors and institutions when it comes to managing Northern Ireland’s interest with respect to the Protocol.

Areas of concern

75% of respondents are concerned about the supply of medicines into Northern Ireland, while 66% are concerned about the lack of involvement of elected representatives, officials and civil society from Northern Ireland in the governance of the Protocol. Other issues causing high levels of concern are customs paperwork for goods moving GB-NI, and restrictions on plant and animal products. On the role of the Court of Justice of the EU in the governance of the Protocol, respondents are evenly split: 45% concerned, 46% unconcerned.

Information about the Protocol

The report also highlights a “very evident problem when it comes to information, knowledge and understanding of the Protocol”, saying that “a substantial majority of respondents continue to claim ‘a good understanding’ of the Protocol, although their factual knowledge of the Protocol does not necessarily support such claims.” Professors Katy Hayward and David Phinnemore write in the Belfast Telegraph, “The Protocol and what it means should and will be debated. But before decisions are taken and votes cast, questions as to the facts must be asked.”

Opinion of Brexit and the ProtocolOpinion of Brexit and the Protocol | Source: Queen’s University Belfast

The report also considers the importance of the Protocol to voters compared to other issues, finding that only 9% of respondents view the effects of the Protocol as the issue causing the most concern.

64% of respondents agree that the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly should have a sub-committee dedicated to Northern Ireland which should include MLAs. In one of its non-papers published in October, the European Commission suggested that greater engagement between the Northern Ireland Assembly and the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly be discussed.


Common Frameworks and Protocol problems

On Thursday 24 February, the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs continued its scrutiny of Common Frameworks, hearing evidence from stakeholders on the Frameworks on Plant Health and Plant Varieties and Seeds. Ian Duff (Ulster Arable Society) said the Framework has “two very laudable ideas” in wanting to have a common set of plant health rules across the UK, while recognising the ability of policy divergence when technically justified. However, he said, “those are two very conflicting ideals”. He said the structures as laid out in the document are complex, but “probably the best that could be arrived at in the circumstances.” Duff gave the example of gene editing which GB is moving to allow. (The UK Government’s 'Benefits of Brexit' paper says it “will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows to amend the regulatory definitions of a Genetically Modified Organism”). However, Duff said that “it would not be able to be used in Northern Ireland due to the constraints of the EU rules.” He said the framework structures “enable this to be discussed, [and] information shared, but I don’t see anything which gives me confidence that the growers in Northern Ireland will have access to the new varieties…it doesn't seem to have the power to take the decisions which would be of relevance to the industry here.”

Sally Cullimore (Horticultural Trades Association) emphasised that there is the potential for “huge differences in plant health regulation…It’s unknown as to how that might pan out.” She said that since the Protocol was introduced, the plant supply sector has seen huge impacts: a massive decline in GB businesses furnishing NI, prohibitions on certain species being supplied to NI, including various trees, and businesses who can no longer buy from GB. Cullimore concluded, “The point is we've got a problem at the moment and we can't see that this [Framework] is presenting any opportunity to make it better. So while the Framework itself is a great idea and I can see it's trying to make sense of plant health for officials and trying to give some sense of where to go for advice and what the different layers mean, it actually doesn't do anything for businesses, or economics, or the people on the ground.” Concerns were also raised about the lack of consultation of stakeholders in the development of the Frameworks.

John Shannon (Horticultural Trades Association) raised the difficulties post-Brexit for bringing plants to NI from GB, with challenges in extra SPS paperwork, restrictions on seed potatoes, and the impact on consumers, who he said are facing higher costs because of the extra bureaucracy. He emphasised that the issues are not only affecting big farmers but also small consumers. Peter Donnelly (NI Soft Fruit Growers' Association) said, “We are finding it…near possible to bring in plant rootstock…Either the paperwork is too hard or the propagators just don't want to bother with us”. He said they now rely on propagators in the Netherlands.

The Lords Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee has written to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the Animal Health and Welfare Common Framework. It says it has “serious concerns regarding the quality control” of the department’s frameworks.


Interparliamentary dialogue

On Friday 25 February, the House of Lords hosted the first meeting of the Interparliamentary Forum, made up of members of the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly, House of Commons, House of Lords and the Senedd. The Forum is a successor to the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit, which met between 2017 and 2019.

Members of the Interparliamentary Forum at its first meeting on 25 FebruaryMembers of the Interparliamentary Forum at its first meeting on 25 February | Source: UK Parliament. Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

The Forum aims “to improve scrutiny through the mutual exchange of information and by seeking a consistent approach to improving transparency and accountability at both a Ministerial and inter-governmental level in our respective jurisdictions”. It held an exchange of views on intergovernmental relations with Neil O’Brien MP, Minister for Levelling Up, The Union and Constitution. The Forum agreed a joint statement and will focus on:

  • The operation of international agreements including the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the Withdrawal Agreement and the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol;
  • The UK internal market including the UK Internal Market Act and Common Frameworks;
  • The impact of the new constitutional arrangements on the legislative process including the use of secondary powers and the legislative consent process.

Sinéad McLaughlin, Chair of Committee for the Executive Office, and Caoimhe Archibald, Chair of Committee for the Economy attended from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Today, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly is taking place in Westminster. The Assembly will be addressed by James Cleverly and Thomas Byrne, respectively the Europe Ministers of the UK and Ireland Governments, and UK Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer, as well as UK Northern Ireland Office Minister Conor Burns, DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and John Finucane MP of Sinn Féin. The session can be watched live here.


Other news

  • The Scottish Parliament Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee has published its report on its UK Internal Market (UKIM) inquiry. The Committee highlights concerns about the Common Frameworks programme, including with regard to exclusions from the UKIM Act Market Access Principles. The report also considers how the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland impacts on the UKIM. The Committee “recognises that the operation of the Protocol has a significant impact on Scotland and [we] will continue to monitor developments in relation to how it is working.” The Committee identifies three significant and interrelated tensions related to Brexit: tension between open trade and regulatory divergence; tension within the devolution settlement; and tension in the balance of relations between the Executive and the legislature.


This Week at the Assembly

  • Tuesday 1 March, 12.30PM – Plenary - Motion: The draft Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme (Amendment) Order 2022
  • Tuesday 1 March, 1PM – Plenary - Further Consideration Stage: Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance) Bill (NIA Bill 53/17-22)
  • Tuesday 1 March, 2PM – Plenary - Question Time - Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
  • Wednesday 2 March, 11.10AM - Committee for Infrastructure -  EU Exit legislation
  • Wednesday 2 March, 3PM - Committee for The Executive Office - Oral Briefing from NI Assembly EU Affairs Manager
  • Thursday 3 March, 12.10AM - Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs - Draft Committee Position Papers on Common Frameworks; EU Exit Legislation


Catch up with Assembly Business

  • Tuesday 22 February, 1PM – Plenary - Consideration Stage: Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance) Bill
  • Tuesday 22 February, 2PM – Plenary - Question Time – Economy
  • Tuesday 22 February, 5PM – Plenary - Motion: The draft Environment (2021 Act) (Commencement and Saving Provision) Order (Northern Ireland) 2022
  • Wednesday 23 February, 11.15AM - Committee for Infrastructure - Departmental Briefing - Draft Railway (Safety Management) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations
  • Wednesday 23 February, 12.20PM - Committee for the Economy - The Provisional Late Payments (Commercial Transactions) Common Framework - Research and Information Service (RaISe) Briefing Paper
  • Thursday 24 February, 11.15AM - Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs - The Plant Health & Plant Varieties & Seeds Common Frameworks - Stakeholder Oral Evidence Session; EU Exit legislation


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