Press release 

UK-EU treaty offers solution to fix Northern Ireland Protocol, argues Sir David Lidington


  • Proposals published today, following the EU’s proposals, by the Conservative European Forum include time-limited UK-EU treaty to slash red tape and burdens on business
  • UK and EU urged to compromise and be open to practical solutions, and cut risk to the Union
  • CEF proposals backed by Damian Green, who urges Govt to give them ‘serious consideration’ and break impasse


New proposals to resolve Northern Ireland’s border issues should be adopted to avoid a descent into bitter sectarian division, former ‘de facto’ Deputy Prime Minister Sir David Lidington is warning.


The ‘positive and pragmatic’ proposals are published today by the Conservative European Forum (CEF), chaired by Sir David, who says action must be taken promptly to minimise the risk to the Union. 


CEF proposes a self-standing, time-limited UK-EU treaty on sanitary and phytosanitary standards, reflecting standards now in force under both EU and UK law. It includes a period of ‘dynamic adjustment’, which allows for a joint commitment to work until 2025 to collect the data for a permanent Northern Ireland-specific solution.


Sir David, who served as de facto Deputy Prime Minister under Theresa May, said:


‘Our proposal will significantly reduce border checks on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and reduce the regulatory burden on businesses. In doing so, it heads off what threatens to become a bitter division over the Protocol between the two main traditions and communities in Northern Ireland. 


‘It is in no way an infringement of UK sovereignty: negotiating and ratifying an international treaty is a fundamental expression of sovereignty.’


The CEF proposals have been welcomed by experts, including Sir Julian King, former British Ambassador to Ireland, Director-General of the Northern Ireland Office, British Ambassador to France and the UK’s last EU Commissioner. He said:


‘The UK and the EU have a shared interest in ensuring peace and stability in Northern Ireland is maintained and never taken for granted. Now is the time for concerted action and compromise to resolve differences over the Protocol.


‘The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement helped ease sectarian divisions. Without a rapid solution there is a very real risk of increased division and tension.


‘In my view, the CEF’s pragmatic proposals will abate the tensions we have recently seen increasing. I would welcome practical steps to see its implementation.’


The Northern Ireland Protocol, implemented at the start of this year, ensures no checks on goods are required along the NI/Republic of Ireland border, but it has prompted some disagreements, including a row over sausages and chilled meats.


Under the CEF proposal, the European court of justice will still preside over any cases in which consistency with the Withdrawal Agreement – including the Protocol – is at issue. However, when the issue is consistency with the new standalone EU-UK SPS treaty, governance mechanisms established in the TCA or its own independent dispute resolution mechanism will be used.


Damian Green MP, Chair of the One Nation Conservatives’ Parliamentary caucus and former First Secretary of State, said:


‘The proposals put forward by Sir David Lidington and CEF are proportionate, balanced and account for the realities of the current situation on UK and EU standards. I urge my Conservative colleagues in Government to give this plan serious consideration and discuss it with European counterparts, as I believe it has the potential to break the current impasse.


‘Peace and stability in Northern Ireland are essential for the UK, the EU and, most importantly, the people of Northern Ireland.’


Sir David added:


‘For any solution to be possible, compromise on both sides is required. In the UK, we must accept the implications of the Northern Ireland Protocol, negotiated by the Johnson Government, and endorsed in the Conservative Party’s 2019 winning manifesto. 


‘For its part, the EU must apply the principles of necessity and proportionality, which it cited frequently during negotiations in 2017-2018.


‘It is a necessity that the border on the island of Ireland is treated as a special case, different to the EU’s other external borders. Customs and other regulatory checks must be proportionate and reflect the fact that trade across the Irish sea is insignificant compared with overall UK/EU trade and so the risk to the Single Market is small.’


‘The proposals published yesterday by the European Commission are a positive step forward and recognition of current trade levels’