Lords welcomes EU commitment to avoid hard border

The UK’s House of Lords EU Committee has described itself as “heartened” by the commitment of the European Council and Parliament to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The agri-food sector will be one of the industries most “profoundly affected by Brexit”, but it was not realistic to pursue a special status for Northern Ireland in the EU once the UK leaves the bloc, according to the Lords’ report published today, July 19.

Looking at the consequences of Brexit for the devolved governments, the Lords also raised concerns that “the Brexit debate has undermined political instability” in Northern Ireland – warning that the region should not become “collateral damage” in the negotiations.

However, the report identified the importance of retaining a customs and trade arrangement between the Republic and the North in the event that the UK leaves the customs union – subject to the approval of EU institutions and member states.

The report said: “Special status is a politically contentious term in Northern Ireland and we acknowledge the unionist community’s concerns that no aspect of the Brexit negotiations should undermine Northern Ireland’s ties to the rest of the UK.

“Yet, at the same time, the specific circumstances in Northern Ireland give rise to unique issues that will need to be addressed during the Brexit negotiations.

We are heartened by the statements of the prime minister, the Irish government, the European Council and the European Parliament, all expressing commitment to protect the achievements of the peace process and to seek to avoid the imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“We also welcome the European Council’s statement that ‘the union should also recognise existing bilateral agreements and arrangements between the UK and Ireland, which are compatible with EU law’ as an indicator that it will not stand in the way of retention of the common travel area,” the report said.

The value of Irish agricultural exports to Northern Ireland was €750 million out of a total €4.1 billion in food and drink shipments to the UK last year, according to figures from IFAC Accountants.