Peers slam Eustice's 'lack of openness' on agri-trade

Secretary of State George Eustice has been accused of 'a lack of openness'
Secretary of State George Eustice has been accused of 'a lack of openness'

Peers have accused Defra Secretary George Eustice of 'lacking openness' on the future of agri-trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The House of Lords EU Environment Sub-Committee is examining what the Northern Ireland protocol will mean for agri-food trade between NI and GB.

Earlier this year, the government published its proposals for implementing the Northern Ireland part of the EU withdrawal agreement, known as the protocol.

It is designed to avoid a hard border between Ireland and NI in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and means that from 1 January 2021 goods will not need to be checked along the Irish border.

But the committee says that Mr Eustice has failed to answer its questions or acknowledge that several organisations in NI see a UK-EU free trade agreement as an important part of the best-case scenario under the protocol.

According to peers, Mr Eustice did not respond directly to their questions on issues including whether the government’s unfettered access commitment will take into account all-Ireland supply chains.

They added that the Secretary of State failed to acknowledge the 'challenging timetable' to implement the protocol.

The committee is also concerned that the government’s Internal Market Bill paves the way for 'unilateral' implementation of the government’s position despite EU customs rules that apply under the protocol.

Now the committee has written to the Defra Secretary again about its concerns and to seek more answers.

Lord Teverson, Chair of the EU Environment Sub-Committee said: “The government must consider the likely impacts on NI businesses and consumers of the increased levels of checks and controls that will be required if UK-EU future relationship negotiations are unsuccessful.

“The government’s internal market proposals have implications for trust and the UK’s reputation for abiding by its international agreements.

“We urge the government to reconsider its proposals and to engage with the EU constructively,” Lord Teverson said.