Martin Howe QC was speaking as the controversy over Boris Johnson‘s Internal Market Bill, which overwrites part of the protocol, continued to rage this week. And Mr Howe, chairman of Lawyers for Britain, said the EU had a “big fat interest” in making life as difficult as possible the UK when it came to shipping goods to Northern Ireland.
Mr Howe was one of the so-called “star chamber”, along with seven MPs, who scrutinised Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement last year, specifically the backstop plan aimed at preventing a hard border in Northern Ireland, concluding there was no way the UK Government could pull out of the arrangement unilaterally.
He told Express.co.uk: “People are focusing like mad on border controls, in other words goods crossing into Northern Ireland (from the Republic).
“And to a large extent, they have ignored what I believe to be a much more fundamental part of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is directly related to what happens within Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson is right to suggest the NI protocol threatens the integrity of the UK, said Mr Howe
Martin Howe QC
“And those are essentially all the rules relating to goods you can legally sell in the single market, and their marketing and labelling and transport and things like that.”
Mr Howe added: “If we move forward to January 1, 2021, when we leave the transition period, at that point, the UK’s laws on goods will be identical to the EU’s, because nothing will have changed.
“As far as the content of goods is concerned, the laws will be in same, so in principle, goods which can be sold in the UK can be sold in Northern Ireland and vice versa.
Mr Howe said the EU had a “technophobic” attitude towards driverless cars
“However, what will happen over time is divergence will arise, for two reasons.
“One is we, the UK, may decide to change our laws. I think one very strong candidate for change would be the way the EU applies and interprets its rules on genetically modified organisms, which is absurd – no other entity in the world does it in that way.
“There are other areas – as cars develop, we are likely to be more accommodating than the technophobic EU with regard to self-driving cars.
“The other thing is of course the EU will be changing its rules on all sorts of things as time goes on.
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Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill would override some aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement
Former Prime Minister Theresa May
“So more and more goods that may be on sale in the UK may be unsaleable in Northern Ireland.”
Fast-forwarding ten years, Mr Howe envisaged a situation where most cars had been imported from the the European Union, plus numerous other goods too, as a result of the complexities of bringing them in from mainland Britain – and did not dispute a suggestion that the bloc’s approach could ultimately be characterised as a bid to incorporate Northern Ireland into the bloc permanently.
He added: “With goods going the other way, from Northern Ireland to the UK, we can cope with those under the protocol because there are no restrictions on goods that conform to EU rules but not to UK rules flowing to Great Britain – and indeed, that’s one of the features of the Internal Market Bill.
“But within Northern Ireland it will become increasingly difficult.
How the customs plan for Northern Ireland might work
“If you are running something like a supermarket where you are have warehouses full of a huge range of goods and you a scenario where random chunks of different kinds of goods for one reason or another may become unsaleable in Northern Ireland, it is going to become increasingly difficult to run an integrated supply chain.
“You then have to stock goods separately for Northern Ireland from goods for GB.
“You have to have separate inventories, if you are a supermarket buying in from suppliers you need to tell the suppliers that they have to have a EU-friendly version and a UK-friendly version for GB.
“Theresa May’s solution to this was to keep all the goods rules in Great Britain the same as in the EU.
The Northern Ireland Protocol aims to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland
“But that’s madness – what is the point of Brexit if all you do is follow the rules of the EU? It’s lunacy.”
With reference to the EU’s ultimate aims, Mr Howe said: “The EU has a legitimate interest, which is that they don’t want goods that don’t conform to EU law crossing the border.
“But they also have a big fat economic interest in making it all as difficult as possible.
“Because that then gives a big advantage to exporters into the Northern Ireland market from the EU, whether from the Republic of Ireland or elsewhere.”