The House of Lords, which is the UK equivalent of the Seanad, this week released a follow-up report on the effect of the Northern Ireland (NI) protocol on trade.

There were no new revelations beyond what is already known and if it was to be summarised in a single line, the protocol has created winners and losers.

Winners undoubtedly are large agri businesses and farmers who are able to continue with business as usual for cross border trade.

Larne Harbour, centre of the Irish Sea border dispute. \ Houston Green

It has created issues for farmers taking livestock in from Scotland and meat factories have to obtain health certificated for consignments, but this has been manageable and they benefit from unhindered access to the EU markets unlike their counterparts in Britain.

The losers are small businesses importing small consignments of animal or plant origin goods.

By virtue of every consignment needing a certificate, it makes for a logistical nightmare where, for example, a garden centre is importing a few plants of different species for a different branch, as each needs its own certificate.

The report was also of the view that the temporary concessions, in some cases agreed and in others just unilaterally introduced, should be made permanent. This will have to be part of a permanent negotiated settlement.


This latest report is a reminder that Brexit and the protocol remains far from resolved.

Last weekend, travellers were seriously delayed at Dover Port when a few French border officials didn’t turn up for work.

The reality is that Dover Port is always operating close to full capacity and it only requires the slightest glitch for a backlog to build.

Passport control was reported in the Financial Times this week as now requiring 90 seconds per person, as opposed to 58 seconds previously.

As travellers through Dublin Airport earlier this summer will testify, any staffing issue at busy times has a serious knock-on effect.

Whatever about the experience of travellers, farmers either side of the border need a protocol solution that maintains the status quo. Achieving this will require UK agreement, as, ultimately, the EU requires the UK to implement border controls.

If this agreement cannot be secured, then the options are for NI to leave the single market completely, as the rest of the UK has, or the Republic of Ireland also becomes part of the UK single market and border controls, with the rest of the EU controlled by Irish authorities.

Finding a way

Neither of these latter options are particularly palatable for both political and logistical reasons, just as the current version isn’t politically acceptable to the UK.

Farmers need the EU and UK to find a way to agree an outcome that is mutually acceptable.

It doesn’t matter who has previously agreed to what or who is right and who is wrong.

A long-term arrangement has to satisfy both parties and while it will never achieve the perfection either the UK or EU may desire, it can be made workable and tolerable.

The secret is being able to settle for something that is fairly good, as opposed to reaching for an unreachable perfection.