Report from the Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Introductory report Contents

Chapter 4: The political and social impact of the Protocol

Political instability in Northern Ireland

142.The period since the 2016 referendum has been characterised by deep political volatility in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly were re-established in January 2020 after a three-year hiatus in which they did not function, but the institutions are fragile and their stability has been called into question since the implementation of the Protocol.

143.Some of our witnesses expressed fears about the future of the power-sharing institutions. Columnist and political commentator Dr Tom Kelly told us: “We are on the brink of [not having a government] at the moment.”124 Similarly, the Ulster Unionist Party wrote that, as a result of the implementation of the Protocol, “there is a very real chance that devolution will not survive the next six months”, in which eventuality the party said it would be difficult to see it ever being resurrected.125 The changes in leadership of the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party, outlined in Chapter 2, underline the destabilising political impact of the Protocol.

Community unrest

144.Between 29 March and 9 April 2021, violent unrest broke out in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, and Ballymena, Carrickfergus, and Newtownabbey in County Antrim.126 Protestors threw petrol bombs and fireworks, and set fire to cars. 127 Water cannon was deployed for the first time in six years128 in what PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts referred to as the worst street violence in years.129 During the two-week period, 90 police officers were injured, and 18 people were arrested.130

145.The immediate trigger for the rioting was reported to have been the Public Prosecution Service’s decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians who had attended the funeral of former IRA head of intelligence Bobby Storey in June 2020. The funeral drew a crowd of 2,000 people at a time when COVID-19 restrictions were in place, 131 leading to allegations that Sinn Féin were being given apparent preferential treatment by the police.132 There were also reports that a police crackdown on criminal activity in loyalist communities had contributed to the unrest.133 Mary Madden told us that “there was a lot of build-up to this”, and the prosecution decision “coincided with the implementing of the Protocol”, which created a “perfect storm”.134

146.After the death of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh on 9 April, unionist and loyalist groups called for protests to be halted as a mark of respect. However, further lower-level protests have continued since.

147.Most of our witnesses argued the Protocol was not the primary cause of the community disturbances, but rather the “spark”135 or the “trigger”.136 Indeed, Jonathan Powell told us: “There is no doubt that the issue of identity and of the Protocol was tinder lying on the ground waiting to be lit.”137 On the other hand, Jackie Redpath, CEO, Greater Shankill Partnership, described the violence as being “almost completely attributable to the Protocol”.138

148.We heard that the Protocol was perceived as the embodiment of five years of dissatisfaction with political leadership139 and a sense of disenfranchisement. Professor Morrow told us:

“The word used when you talk to people is ‘void’ … The biggest single consequence of the Protocol has been disorientation, confusion, and a certain type of fog about direction and who is actually in charge.”140

149.We explored the extent to which people in Northern Ireland, including those protesting, were aware of the Protocol’s provisions. Witnesses thought that while most people had little understanding of the minutiae of it, they were aware that something had changed, symbolised by the advent of checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.141 Ian Marshall said that “the ‘perception’ of what the Protocol actually threatens is crucially important”.142 Similarly, Louise Coyle, Director of the Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network (NIRWN), said: “There is a … belief, by many people in those communities, that the problem is the Protocol and that it needs to go or be fixed.”143

150.As several witnesses pointed out,144 other concerns contributed to the unrest. These include the short-term issues of the controversy over Bobby Storey’s funeral145 and wider issues around policing,146 the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on young people,147 and a general feeling that, in Ian Marshall’s words, “no one has been listening to [the] concerns [of people in Northern Ireland] for the last three years”.148 They also include wider socioeconomic issues. As the SDLP wrote:

“Opposition to the Protocol is being used as a vehicle for airing decades of grievance and frustration about a lack of political delivery. And indeed as a manifestation of many very real frustrations within the Protestant working classes about lack of economic opportunity, feelings of cultural exclusion and political marginalisation.”149

Or, as Dr Tom Kelly told us: “When you strip it back and listen to a lot of those young, articulate, loyalists speak, after two minutes they are talking about inequalities in their community, disadvantage and a lack of opportunity.”150

151.It should also be noted that the violence occurred in some of the most deprived areas in the UK.151 According to the Poverty and Social Exclusion in United Kingdom research project (PSE:UK),152 Northern Ireland has higher levels of multiple deprivation153 than the rest of the UK.154 We were told that many people in Northern Ireland feel that the peace dividends promised after the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement had not materialised,155 and that Northern Ireland had been left behind the rest of the UK.156

152.Jackie Redpath confirmed that the lack of focus on “social transformation” following the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement had contributed to societal fragility in Northern Ireland, and made the political situation more volatile. He told us:

“One of the downsides of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement at the time was that the peace dividend did not go into the communities that were most affected by the conflict. That was because the economic collapse happened around the world. Instead of 6,000 jobs going into north Belfast and west Belfast and giving young people a chance and opportunity, mothers and fathers lost their jobs. That bounce or peace dividend never happened for the communities that were most affected by it. There may be an opportunity in the EU and UK Governments to have an economic focus on Northern Ireland. … Let us see the investment and jobs and factories being built and businesses coming to Northern Ireland that allow people to trade in both directions, that give young people jobs and hope and give them an opportunity that is different than in the past.157

The impact on identity

153.Witnesses from all communities observed that the Protocol had had a destabilising impact on unionist and loyalist identity.158 The presence of checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the resulting economic difficulties, led to perceptions of the “differentiated treatment of Northern Ireland”, which “offends and concerns many unionists”.159 Louise Coyle told us that the Protocol had led to “significant numbers of unionist people feeling that their British identity is being challenged and undermined”.160

154.The Ulster Unionist Party wrote: “The Protocol is a direct attack on those who would describe themselves as unionists.”161 The SDLP touched on a similar theme: “The symbolic meaning of the presence of checks is disliked by many unionists and we would not seek to minimise or dismiss these concerns.”162

155.Ambassador Vale de Almeida said that the EU was “very much aware of the sensitivities” of the unionist community and wanted to discuss how to address the problems created by Brexit:

“But the underlying message is very clear. We respect the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom, we respect the respective identities of different communities, no question about that, and we want, sincerely, to find the best solutions for the problems created by Brexit in Northern Ireland and promote a vision of a positive and forward-looking future for Northern Ireland in these circumstances.”163

156.Lord Frost said that the “societal disruption and weakening of identity in one community” was problematic:

“in the real world it is very difficult to operate anything much if it does not enjoy broad support from the governed. In practice, it is difficult to make things work in those circumstances. We have pretty much a 50:50 split of opinion on the Protocol in Northern Ireland, and that does not feel like a sustainable basis.”164

Perceptions of UK Government lack of transparency

157.Another contributory factor to unrest over the Protocol has been the perception that the UK Government had not been transparent in explaining the consequences of the Protocol.165 Shortly before the 2019 General Election, the Prime Minister said: “There’s no question of there being checks on goods going NI/GB or GB/NI because they are part of … the same customs territory and it’s very clear that there should be unfettered access between Northern Ireland and the rest of GB.”166 On 1 January, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Brandon Lewis MP, tweeted that “there is no ‘Irish Sea Border’”.167 Jonathan Powell told us: “A lot of people believed what Boris Johnson had said about there being no border.”168

158.Our witnesses also argued that the Government had demonstrated an apparent lack of understanding of the agreement it signed. The Prime Minister, addressing the House of Commons on 3 February 2021, pledged that the Government would “do everything we need to do, whether legislatively or indeed by invoking Article 16 of the Protocol, to ensure that there is no barrier down the Irish Sea”.169 Our witnesses variously characterised this as, at best, demonstrating ignorance of the provisions of the mutually agreed Protocol, which imposes checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland or, at its most egregious, as a deliberate evasion of responsibility and parcelling of blame onto the EU. Rather than, as Professor Phinnemore and colleagues suggested, seeking “to address … the challenges posed by the terms of the Protocol in the negotiation of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement”, the Government waited until the Protocol was implemented to raise grievances. This was “an opportunity missed”.170

159.Several witnesses took issue with the way in which they felt the Government had underplayed the precise consequences of the UK’s departure from the EU for Northern Ireland.171 Jess Sargeant’s assessment of the Government’s “tendency to perhaps not acknowledge the reality of what the Protocol means on the ground”172 corroborated Sir Nigel Hamilton and Mary Madden’s testimony that the Government “seriously minimised the difficulties”,173 and the SDLP’s assertion that the Government “spent most of 2020 denying that [the Withdrawal Agreement] would involve significant disruption”.174 Professor Morrow saw a continuing lack of clarity in the Government’s position on the Protocol.175

160.The Centre for Cross Border Studies wrote that a lack of honesty about the consequences of the Protocol had turned it into “the scapegoat that must be sacrificed immediately, even in the absence of any viable and agreed alternative in place”.176

161.Lord Frost said that in negotiating the Protocol the Government had sought to find:

“a balance in which certain things were painful but acceptable in the broader interest, and trying to respect the different strands of the Good Friday Agreement and the delicate balance in Northern Ireland. Clearly, we did not quite find that. We know that from experience now, even if we thought it at the time.”177

The perceived use of Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip

162.There was an overwhelming feeling, in particular among unionists and loyalists, that Northern Ireland had been used in the Brexit negotiations, in Jackie Redpath’s words, as “collateral”,178 and in the DUP’s words, as a “bargaining chip”.179 This, Mr Redpath told us, had “destabilised things to the point of destabilising the peace process”.180

163.Mary Madden said:

“The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was very complex relationship building and it protected and settled the constitutional question. Unfortunately, Brexit and then the Protocol have unsettled and destabilised those relationships. In any contested jurisdiction—and this is a very contested jurisdiction—you cannot have winners or losers … When you have a contested space, you need to have compromise.”181

164.The Ulster Unionist Party warned:

“The Protocol will be used as further leverage in continuing negotiations between the UK Government and the EU for the foreseeable future. Despite the direct, negative impacts of the Protocol, Northern Ireland will once again become the filling in the sandwich. For too long Northern Ireland has been used as a bargaining chip in negotiations, with actions not matching words and political promises becoming meaningless.”182

165.Business community representatives also made similar points. Aodhán Connolly said that “we need to remove the politics of this. Northern Ireland, and especially the business community, can no longer be that football in the game of soccer going on between the EU and the UK. Most of all, we need to see that our faith in this process is well founded.”183

Support for the Protocol

166.Others argued that the Protocol was a necessary response to Brexit. Jonathan Powell said that Brexit was always going to pose a problem for Northern Ireland: “If we are going to leave the Single Market and the customs union, there has to be a border somewhere. You cannot just magic it away. That border will infringe the rights of one group or another under the Good Friday Agreement.”184 He said that a sea border “could be managed and it is certainly better than a land border, which would create much more significant problems”. 185

167.Surveys of public opinion suggest a strong division of opinion on the Protocol. In an opinion poll commissioned by Queen’s University Belfast in March 2021, 46% agreed that the Protocol “provides appropriate means for managing the effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland”.186 Professor Hayward noted that the polling showed that while “the majority of people think that particular arrangements for Northern Ireland were necessary as a result of Brexit”, opinion on the Protocol itself was split down the middle.187 She added that, according to the poll, “the younger you are, the more likely you are to think that the Protocol is a good thing; and the older you are, the less likely you are to think that it is good”.188

168.A further poll in June 2021 found that 67% thought that “particular NI arrangements are necessary”; when asked if “the Protocol is on balance good for NI”, 43% agreed and 48% disagreed; and when asked if “the Protocol is appropriate for managing Brexit in NI”, 47% agreed and 47% disagreed; and while 46% wanted MLAs to vote in favour of the continued application of Articles 5–10 of the Protocol through the democratic consent mechanism under Article 18, 45% wanted them to vote against.189

169.Support for the Protocol is particularly prevalent in nationalist and republican communities. Ian Marshall acknowledged that, just as the implementation of the Protocol feels undemocratic for unionists such as himself, so do nationalists feel “that Brexit was foisted on them against their will”.190 He saw the Protocol as “the outworking of this and a necessary component of the new relationship between NI, the UK, ROI and EU”—a relationship which, in his opinion, is “something [the nationalist] community is quite content to accept”.191

170.The SDLP expressed frustration at the UK Government’s lack of political leadership, urging it to “deliver on legally binding promises and stop reckless rhetoric”, while making a concerted effort to “maximise the economic benefits of the Protocol for NI”. They considered that the Protocol, “while imperfect, offers important protections from some of the most disruptive potential consequences from the UK’s chosen method of leaving the EU”.192

171.Sinn Féin judged that Brexit, rather than the Protocol, had caused “damage to north-south links, at a time when interactions across the island [had] been increasing year-on-year”. The party emphasised the need for “a stable trading environment” on the island of Ireland in the post-COVID-19 and post-Brexit landscape, in order “to attract inward investment to create jobs and strengthen our economy”.193

172.Despite the views expressed to us by nationalist and republican witnesses, Professor Colin Harvey, School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast, felt that “there seems to be limited appreciation within the Westminster/Whitehall systems in general of nationalist/republican perspectives”.194

The impact on the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement

173.In the context of these divergent perspectives, we reflected on the impact of Brexit and the Protocol on the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.195 We did so against the backdrop of two applications for judicial review challenging the Protocol and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the European Union Withdrawal Act 2020. On 30 June, the High Court in Belfast dismissed the applications for judicial review on various grounds, including: that the Withdrawal Acts of 2018 and 2020 overrode Article VI of the Act of Union; that Section 1(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 has no impact on the legality of changes effected by the Protocol; and that there had been no breach of the applicants’ rights under Article 3, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights that ensures the “free expression of opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature”.196 The judgment is likely to be appealed.

174.In summarising the evidence we received, and in view of the legal proceedings that were ongoing during our inquiry, we do not reflect in this report on the legality of the Government’s actions in concluding the Protocol. Rather our focus is on the broader political impact of the Protocol on the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. However, in that context we acknowledge that the legal proceedings have been a significant factor in recent political debate in Northern Ireland.

175.The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was underpinned by the frictionless and seamless trade afforded within the EU Single Market, and the Agreement ‘settled’ the issue of identity by allowing people in Northern Ireland to identify as British, Irish or both. Yet these foundations have been undermined. As Mary Madden told us: “The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement allowed people to feel both Irish and British. Unionists now feel like they are not as British as they were before the Protocol was implemented.”197 Professor Morrow agreed that “there is no doubt whatsoever that [the Protocol] has been very destabilising” to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement”.198

176.Professor Morrow, the DUP and Unionist Voice Policy Studies raised concerns about the interaction between the Protocol and the principle of cross-community consent enshrined in both the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which devolved powers from the UK Government to Northern Ireland.199 The DUP argued that “the requirement for cross-community support in Northern Ireland [has been] discarded and ignored”.200 Peter Sheridan told us that the perception among unionist and loyalists was that there has been a change in Northern Ireland’s relationship with the United Kingdom without their consent.201

177.The Centre for Cross Border Studies highlighted the strain placed on the North-South institutions established under Strand 2 of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, as demonstrated by the DUP’s reluctance to participate in North-South ministerial meetings. They argued that this was “ultimately reducing the space to find potential resolutions”.202

178.Several witnesses stressed that Brexit, rather than the Protocol, was the root cause of this destabilising effect, in particular given that 55.8% of votes cast in the referendum in Northern Ireland were to remain in the EU.203 Sinn Féin argued:

“There is no good Brexit for Ireland, North or South. The majority of people here voted against it. Our membership of the EU was a fundamental component of the peace process and formed the foundation of the Good Friday Agreement. The Protocol is not perfect, but it mitigates the worst of Brexit. It is an internationally agreed and binding treaty that prevents a catastrophic hard land border. We would not be debating trade barriers if the British Government did not go down a path of a hard Brexit with maximum disruption and divergence.”204

179.Ambassador Vale de Almeida reasserted the EU’s position that the Protocol “is the only mechanism identified that protects the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in all its strands, the all-island economy, North-South cooperation, the integrity of the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it”. He sought to provide reassurance of “the EU’s enduring support for peace and stability in Northern Ireland, and for the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement”, which is supported monetarily through a €1 billion (approximately £855 million) endowment through the Peace Plus Fund.205

180.Ambassador O’Neill stressed the need for the Irish Government and the UK Government to work together to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and stressed the importance of using the North-South and East-West institutions established under the Agreement “to advance constructive discussion around managing the challenges arising from Brexit”.206

181.A number of witnesses referred to the interaction of Article 2 of the Protocol (on the rights of individuals) with the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.207 While the provisions of that Article have not been the focus of this report, we acknowledge their importance, and we intend to return to them through a focused piece of work in the autumn.

A democratic deficit

182.In its October 2019 Explanatory Note on the UK proposals for an amended Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, the Government acknowledged that its proposal for a “zone of regulatory compliance across Northern Ireland and the EU … will mean Northern Ireland will be, in significant sectors of its economy, governed by laws in which it has no say. That is clearly a significant democratic problem.”208

183.Notwithstanding the provisions of the democratic consent mechanism subsequently set out in Article 18 of the Protocol, some witnesses identified a fundamental democratic deficit at the heart of the Protocol. Dr Birnie saw the Protocol as a classic case of taxation without representation, and warned that Northern Ireland “will be increasingly a sort of protectorate of the European Union, without democratic legitimacy or accountability”.209

184.The DUP argued that the Protocol’s “central failing” was that it was “imposed without providing the people of Northern Ireland or their elected representatives with an opportunity to provide prior consent”, meaning it “cannot feasibly secure the support of both communities and traditions”. They condemned “the failure to command the support of both unionists and nationalists on such a controversial issue”, and stated that the Government’s decision to implement the Protocol “without the consent of any quarter of political unionism in Northern Ireland … has seriously undermined support for devolution within the unionist community.”

185.The DUP added:

“Under the Protocol, laws can be devised, debated and imposed on Northern Ireland by the EU without direct or meaningful representation from our devolved legislature or national parliament. The consent mechanism imposed by the Government only permits Stormont a vote on whether to retain or disapply this every four years. It is clear that within such a framework the capacity for business and civic stakeholders to inform the rules which affect their lives and livelihoods would be severely hampered, particularly when compared with their counterparts in Great Britain or the Irish Republic.”210

186.The Ulster Unionist Party stated:

“Members of the EU working with representatives of the UK Government on the Joint Committee will make decisions relating to Northern Ireland without any democratic scrutiny. The NI Assembly is now a rule-taker for thousands of EU regulations over which it has no say or scrutiny. There is now joint authority over Northern Ireland between the EU and UK Government and the ECJ retains jurisdiction over this part of the United Kingdom.”211

187.Professor Phinnemore and colleagues wrote: “Policy decisions on the Protocol have often been viewed as being adopted ‘for’ as opposed to ‘with’ Northern Ireland”,212 and Professor Morrow told us that, while the Protocol had been a central area of debate, “Many people in Northern Ireland feel that they have no ultimate input into the final decisions.”213 Louise Coyle told us: “The elected representatives who agreed the Protocol failed to take the electorate with them on this.”214

188.The Environmental Governance Island of Ireland Network pointed to the practical impact in terms of concerns about the EU policies being adopted which would be cumbersome for Northern Ireland, would go against Northern Ireland’s interests or do not take its specific situation into account.215

189.Lord Frost said that “it is inherent in the structure of the Protocol that the democratic legitimacy issue is a very difficult one”. While the Government “felt very strongly at the time” of the negotiations that the democratic deficit issue needed to be addressed, he conceded that “we did not quite find the right balance”, in particular as the Government’s initial proposal for a prior consent vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly was not accepted. Lord Frost acknowledged that the democratic consent mechanism that emerged under Article 18 was “quite an unusual arrangement in democratic terms”, to take account of “the unusual nature of having lots of legislation imposed directly … It is not entirely satisfactory; I do not think anybody thinks that it is.” He added that “we need to find a way of respecting” concerns about the democratic deficit, although “there will always be an element of compromise rather than perfectionism, given the circumstances”.216

Engagement with Northern Ireland communities and civic society

190.There was also concern at a lack of engagement with civic society stakeholders in Northern Ireland. In an opinion poll commissioned by Queen’s University Belfast in March 2021, 73% of those polled were “concerned or very concerned about Northern Ireland’s voice being heard on the implementation of the Protocol”.217

191.We were told that women and young people were among specific sections of the population whose voices have not been heard. Both the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (NIWEP) and Louise Coyle told us that women’s voices had either been “underrepresented”218 or “absent”219 in conversations around the Protocol, and that this was part of an historic trend of women’s exclusion in peacebuilding talks. This was despite the fact that “community and voluntary sector leaders in Northern Ireland are predominantly women”.220 The NIWEP also wrote that “in meetings between the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee and Northern Ireland civil society this year, “no more than two representatives have been women, and only one has had any connection to the women’s sector in Northern Ireland.”221

192.The NIWEP wrote:

“Women [have been] at the forefront of addressing [recent] unrest at community level … this contribution receives very little public attention, and is all but ignored in funding for the community and voluntary sector and community level initiatives.”222

193.As we have seen, there are fears that the impact of the Protocol on trade will have deleterious effects on households, particularly among low-income groups. Citing a 2019 report from the Women’s Regional Consortium,223 and the gendered socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,224 the NIWEP warned: “Women are likely to experience the most significant impact, as many women from low income backgrounds have long reported difficulties in making ends meet and even going hungry or without basic necessities.”225

194.Louise Coyle and the NIWEP expressed concern about “specific issues for women in the border regions, whose everyday lives are often lived on both sides of the border with regard to accessing jobs, education and services as well as connecting families”. They also highlighted the loss of access to the European Protection Order, which allows mutual recognition of protection orders when moving from one EU Member State to another,226 a UK-wide issue but with “specific implications in Northern Ireland and in particular the border regions”.227

195.In addition, given that young people tended to be identified with the recent community unrest—with children as young as 12 involved in some of the incidents228—there remains a need to engage meaningfully with younger generations. Mary Madden told us of “young people in some areas feeling very underrepresented and very unheard and feeling that they have no hope and that no one is listening”.229

196.A March 2021 opinion poll commissioned by Queen’s University Belfast revealed “an evident lack of trust in a range of actors to manage the interests of Northern Ireland in respect of the Protocol”—86% of respondents said that “they distrust/distrust a lot the UK government”.230 Jackie Redpath gave sobering testimony to the feeling among communities that “politics does not work, that our politicians are powerless in this situation”.231

197.In light of these concerns, our witnesses agreed that there was a vital and urgent need for both the UK and the EU to intensify their engagement with stakeholders in Northern Ireland.

198.Although business representatives told us that their engagement with the Government had increased, there was a perception that engagement with community representatives and civic society had been more uneven or, in Louise Coyle’s words, “ad hoc”.232 Peter Sheridan told us that he had monthly meetings with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but that it was a case of raising the same issues time and time again, without seeing results.233 This was echoed by Louise Coyle:

“It is imperative to show how these meetings are part of that process, so instead of just a series of isolated opportunities, which is what I would say there have been so far, for participants to voice their concerns, there needs to be follow-up and feedback as a result of these engagements.”234

199.The Centre for Cross Border Studies agreed that there was a “vital need to show how these meetings are part of a structured process rather than a series of isolated opportunities for participants to voice concerns”. Informal, local and community-level cooperation was imperative to avoid “those charged with monitoring the Protocol’s implementation … basing their conclusions on narrow criteria to marginalise forms of cooperation undertaken by community organisations”.235

200.Jackie Redpath said that his organisation had not been given the opportunity to engage with government officials.236 He and Louise Coyle did concede, though, that community engagement had increased since January and following the period of unrest.237

201.As for the EU’s engagement with Northern Ireland stakeholders, Ambassador Vale de Almeida assured us that “we fully understand the need for [local engagement in Northern Ireland] and have conducted as much outreach as possible within the limits of the existing Covid-19 restrictions”. He pointed to engagement by Vice President Šefčovič with business and society stakeholders, as well as with political leaders in Northern Ireland, and his own visits to Belfast and Derry/Londonderry.238 In that context, we once again note Vice-President Šefčovič’s evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for the Executive Office on 28 June.239


202.There is no doubt that Brexit and the Protocol have had a destabilising effect on the political situation in Northern Ireland and on community relations. Both the UK and the EU have affirmed their commitment to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, but Brexit and the Protocol have evidently placed the delicate equilibrium established by the Agreement under considerable strain, as borders and questions of identity have once more come to the fore. Just as unionists and loyalists object to the Protocol being imposed without their consent, so nationalists and republicans point out that Brexit was imposed on Northern Ireland even though the majority of votes there were to remain in the EU.

203.The unionist and loyalist communities are deeply concerned that Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom has been undermined by the Protocol. Yet the violent unrest seen in late March and early April 2021, while arguably triggered by the Protocol, was also an expression of wider dissatisfaction with the political process and a perception that some voices in Northern Ireland are not listened to. This sense of alienation has been a factor going back many years, and has multiple causes, including the lack of access to employment, skills and investment opportunities within communities that are among the most economically deprived in the UK.

204.This dissatisfaction is exacerbated by the pervasive sense that the Protocol creates a democratic deficit, in that significant aspects of EU law with wide-ranging political and economic implications apply to Northern Ireland subject neither to UK Government participation in the EU institutions, nor to consent from parliamentarians either at Westminster or Stormont. While there are mitigating steps that can be taken, as we set out in the next chapter, there is no apparent way to eliminate the democratic deficit. We intend to return to this issue in the coming months.

205.There is a widespread perception that the Protocol was imposed on Northern Ireland without meaningful engagement with its communities, and without a full and transparent explanation of the impact it would have. Where there was engagement, it was perceived as uneven.

206.Given the implications of the Protocol for people in Northern Ireland, both the UK Government and the EU must develop and expand formal mechanisms for long-term engagement with all sectors of Northern Ireland civic society. As part of this, there should be a particular effort to engage those who have so far felt side-lined in discussions of Brexit and the Protocol, including young people and women.

125 Written evidence from the UUP (IIO0010)

126 BBC, ‘NI riots: What is behind the violence in Northern Ireland?’ (14 April 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

127 BBC, ‘Sinister elements getting younger people to attack PSNI’ (6 April 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

128 ‘More than 70 police officers injured after a week of riots’ The Belfast Telegraph (9 April 2021) [accessed 21 July 2021]

129 BBC, ‘Belfast: Rioting ‘was worst seen in Northern Ireland in years’’ (8 April 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

130 BBC, ‘NI riots: What is behind the violence in Northern Ireland?’(14 April 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

131 ‘Stormont assembly censures Sinn Féin members over funeral’ The Guardian (1 April 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

132 BBC, ‘Bobby Storey funeral: Arlene Foster calls on PSNI chief to resign’ (30 March 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

133 Sky News, ‘Petrol bombs and bricks hurled at police in third night of violence in Northern Ireland’ (5 April 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

135 Q 25 (Peter Sheridan)

136 25 (Mary Madden)

139 Q 6 (Professor Duncan Morrow) and Q 52 (Dr Tom Kelly)

141 Q 23 (Mary Madden, Jackie Redpath and Peter Sheridan)

142 Written evidence from Ian Marshall (IIO0003)

144 Q 3 (Professor Duncan Morrow), 25 (Mary Madden); written evidence from Professor David Phinnemore, Professor Katy Hayward, Dr Billy Melo Araujo and Lisa Whitten (IIO0023)

145 BBC, ‘Bobby Storey funeral: Arlene Foster calls on PSNI chief to resign’ (30 March 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

146 Q 3 (Professor Duncan Morrow)

147 Q 3 (Professor Duncan Morrow) and written evidence from Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (IIO0022)

148 Written evidence from Ian Marshall (IIO0003)

149 Written evidence from the SDLP (IIO0033)

151 BBC ‘NI riots: What is behind the violence in Northern Ireland?’ (14 April 2021): [ accessed 21 June 2021]

152 PSE:UK is a major collaboration between the University of Bristol, Heriot-Watt University, The Open University, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Glasgow and the University of York working with the National Centre for Social Research and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

153 According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, multiple deprivation measures refer to 38 different indicators relating to seven ‘domains’ of deprivation. These are: income deprivation; employment deprivation; health deprivation and disability; education, skills and training deprivation; access to services; living environment; and crime and disorder. Northern Ireland Statistics Research Agency, Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measures 2017: Description of Indicators (2017): [accessed 21 July 2021]

154 Poverty and Social Exclusion, ‘Northern Ireland’: [accessed 21 July 2021]

155 Q 39 (Professor Peter Shirlow)

156 Q 29 (Jackie Redpath)

158 Q 24 (Mary Madden, Peter Sheridan) and Q 50 (Louise Coyle)

159 Written evidence from Professor David Phinnemore, Professor Katy Hayward, Dr Billy Melo Araujo and Lisa Whitten (IIO0023)

161 Written evidence from the UUP (IIO0010)

162 Written evidence from the SDLP (IIO0033)

163 Oral evidence taken before the European Affairs Committee on 24 June 2021 (Session 2021–22), Q 15

165 Q 6 (Jess Sargeant); Q 50 (Jonathan Powell, Dr Tom Kelly); written evidence from Professor Colin Harvey (IIO0007); the Centre for Cross Border Studies (IIO0020); Sir Nigel Hamilton KCB and Mary E Madden CBE (IIO0006) and the SDLP (IIO0033)

166 ITV, ‘Boris Johnson insists there will be no border checks post-Brexit and labels leaked Treasury document “wrong”’ (8 December 2019):–12-08/boris-johnson-insists-no-brexit-checks-between-northern-ireland-great-britain-labels-leaked-treasury-document-wrong [accessed 21 July 2021]

167 Brandon Lewis MP (@BrandonLewis), tweet on 1 January 2021: On 27 June, Mr Lewis told the BBC that the tweet had not “aged well”. See: ‘Brandon Lewis admits tweet on Irish Sea border ‘has not aged well’’, The Belfast Telegraph (27 June 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

168 Q 50 (Jonathan Powell)

169 HC Deb, 3 February 2021, col 950

170 Written evidence from Professor David Phinnemore, Professor Katy Hayward, Dr Billy Melo Araujo and Lisa Whitten (IIO0023)

171 6 (Jess Sargeant), Q 50 (Dr Tom Kelly); Written evidence from Sir Nigel Hamilton KCB and Mary E Madden CBE (IIO0006), Professor Colin Harvey (IIO0007), and the SDLP (IIO0033)

173 Written evidence from Sir Nigel Hamilton KCB and Mary E Madden CBE (IIO0006)

174 Written evidence from the SDLP (IIO0033)

176 Written evidence from the Centre for Cross Border Studies (IIO0020)

179 Written evidence from the DUP (IIO0025)

182 Written evidence from the UUP (IIO0010)

186 Written evidence from Professor David Phinnemore, Professor Katy Hayward, Dr Billy Melo Araujo and Lisa Whitten (IIO0023)

188 Ibid.

189 Professor David Phinnemore, Professor Katy Hayward, Lisa Whitten and Dr Billy Melo Araujo, Testing the Temperature II: What do voters in Northern Ireland think about the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland? (Belfast: Queen’s University Belfast, June 2021):,1125200,smxx.pdf [accessed 21 July 2021]

190 Written evidence from Ian Marshall (IIO0003)

191 Ibid.

192 Written evidence from the SDLP (IIO0033)

193 Written evidence from Sinn Féin (IIO0013)

194 Written evidence from Professor Colin Harvey (IIO0007)

195 A timeline of key events in the agreement and implementation of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is published at ‘Good Friday Agreement timeline of key events’, The Belfast Telegraph (10 April 2018): [accessed 21 July 2021]

196 Judicial Communications Office, Court Dismisses Challenge to EU Exit Protocol: Summary of Judgment (30 June 2021): and Allister & Others, Re Application for Judicial Review & Protocol NI EU exit [2021] NIQB 64 (30 June 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

199 Northern Ireland Act 1998, Part I, Section 4(5)

200 Written evidence from the DUP (IIO0025). See also Q 3 (Professor Duncan Morrow) and written evidence from Unionist Voice Policy Studies (IIO0016).

202 Written evidence from the Centre for Cross Border Studies (IIO0020)

203 Q 52 (Jonathan Powell); written evidence from Ian Marshall (IIO0003), Ambassador Adrian O’Neill (IIO0035), and Harry Maguire (IIO0028)

204 Written evidence from Sinn Féin (IIO0013)

205 Written evidence from Ambassador João Vale de Almeida (IIO0034)

206 Written evidence from Ambassador Adrian O’Neill (IIO0035)

207 See in particular written evidence from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (IIO0031); The Committee on the Administration of Justice (IIO0018); and the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (IIO0022).

208 HM Government, Explanatory Note: UK Proposals for an amended protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (2 October 2019): [accessed 21 July 2021]

210 Written evidence from the DUP (IIO0025)

211 Written evidence from the UUP (IIO0010)

212 Written evidence from Professor David Phinnemore, Professor Katy Hayward, Dr Billy Melo Araujo and Lisa Whitten (IIO0023)

215 Written evidence from the Environmental Governance Island of Ireland Network (IIO0029)

217 Written evidence from Professor David Phinnemore, Professor Katy Hayward, Dr Billy Melo Araujo and Lisa Whitten (IIO0023)

218 Written evidence from NIWEP (IIO0022)

220 Ibid.

221 Written evidence from NIWEP (IIO0022)

222 Ibid.

223 Women’s Regional Consortium, Impact of Ongoing Austerity: Women’s Perspectives (March 2019): [accessed 21 July 2021]

224 See, for example: Women and Equalities Committee, Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact (Fifth Report, Session 2019–21, HC 385)

225 Written evidence from NIWEP (IIO0022)

226 Directive 2011/99/EU on the European Protection Order (EPO) sets up a mechanism between Member States allowing for the recognition of protection orders issued as a criminal law measure. Regulation (EU) No. 606/2013 on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters sets up a mechanism allowing for a direct recognition of protection orders issued as a civil law measure between Member States

227 Written evidence from NIWEP (IIO0022)

228 ‘Northern Ireland: Police blame teenagers and criminal gangs for nightly riots’, The Independent (5 April 2021): [accessed 21 July 2021]

230 Written evidence from Professor Phinnemore, Professor Katy Hayward, Dr Billy Melo Araujo and Lisa Whitten (IIO0023)

235 Written evidence from the Centre for Cross Border Studies (IIO0020)

236 Q 32 (Jackie Redpath)

237 Q 32 (Jackie Redpath); Q 56 (Louise Coyle)

238 Written evidence from Ambassador João Vale de Almeida (IIO0034)

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