Lack of clarity on how the Northern Ireland Protocol will apply in practice

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    Concerns are increasing about the lack of clarity with regard to the practical application of the Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol.

    The House of Lords’ EU Committee sent a letter to Minister for the Cabinet Office, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, conveying the worries of businesses in Northern Ireland. One of the biggest concerns is the uncertainty over the practical impacts of the Protocol – the processes that will apply, the level of checks and customs that will be required etc. Unclear language used by the government, such as “unfettered access”, arouse these fears further as neither the Northern Ireland authorities nor business know how this will translate in practice. The House of Lords’ Committee expects an answer from Minister Gove by 8th of April 2020.

    The EU Commission released this week a notice to stakeholders on the application of the Withdrawal Agreement in the fields of chemicals, which also talks about the situation of Northern Ireland. It clarifies that Northern Ireland will be considered part of the internal market in regard to REACH legislation. A substance manufactured in Northern Ireland and shipped to the EU will not be considered an imported substance. Substances put on the Northern Ireland market will have to register with ECHA, including those coming from Great Britain. However, there is still lack of clarity on how this will work in practice, how inspections will be done and whether the Northern Ireland authorities will be able to access ECHA’s data base.

    The EU wrote to the UK several months ago asking permission to open an office in Belfast. The EU wants a physical presence in Northern Ireland so it can ensure the Irish protocol is being properly implemented. Sources suggest the presence would be more technical than diplomatic. But UK negotiators believe this would be an infringement of UK sovereignty and would amount to EU “joint patrols” through the backdoor and could lead to an EU “permanent” footing.

    House of Lords EU Committee letter
    European Commission notice to stakeholders on the Withdrawal Agreement application in the field of chemicals
    RTE on the EU office in Belfast

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