Internal Market Information System Regulations (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2021 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:10 pm on 29th November 2022.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 4:10 pm, 29th November 2022

Noble Lords will understand the importance of protecting citizens and businesses through the effective and efficient operation of the Northern Ireland protocol. This instrument will form part of the UK’s delivery of the protocol. It also serves to tidy up the statute book by removing provisions relating to access to the EU’s internal market information system database that are redundant or inoperable as a result of the UK’s departure from the EU. I hope noble Lords agree that it is important that our statute book provides a clear and up-to-date picture of UK law for the benefit of UK public authorities, businesses and citizens.

The internal market information system, which I will refer to as the IMI, is a secure online tool used to facilitate the EU single market. It was created to address problems of ineffective, unsecure and inefficient communication between EU member states and between EU member states and the European Commission. The IMI is hosted and maintained by the European Commission.

At the end of the implementation period, the EU blocked the UK’s access to the European Union’s networks, information systems and databases. Under the Northern Ireland protocol, however, the EU can grant the UK access to the systems it considers necessary to enable the UK to comply with its obligations under the protocol.

The European Commission, in its decision of 16 October 2020, granted the UK limited access to the IMI to allow the UK to fulfil certain obligations under EU legislation which continue to apply in respect of Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland protocol and which I will set out in more detail shortly. The UK’s access to the IMI has otherwise been removed.

EU regulation 1024/2012 on administrative co-operation through the IMI sets out the legal framework for the use of the IMI. This regulation remains in force in the UK as retained EU law under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and applies in areas where access to the IMI is retained.

This instrument does not make any policy changes, impose any new obligations or create any new powers. It removes redundant provisions that are inoperable, where UK access has already been removed by the European Commission on the grounds that it is no longer required. In particular, it removes references concerning legislative areas in respect of which the UK does not have access to the IMI, including the services directive, the recognition of professional qualifications, patients’ rights relating to cross-border healthcare, posted workers, public documents and non-road mobile machinery.

It also clarifies that the regulation applies in respect of Northern Ireland only in order to facilitate communications and the exchange of information for three general purposes, as I will explain. The first is to facilitate mutual recognition of goods lawfully marketed in another member state. EU regulation 2019/515 sets out a framework for ensuring that goods lawfully marketed in one EEA state can be sold in any other EEA state, as long as they are safe and respect the public interest.

The regulation provides that economic operators who consider that their rights under this regulation have been breached by a public authority of another EEA state can use the single market problem-solving network, SOLVIT, to try to find solutions without the need to resort to action in court. SOLVIT is hosted on the IMI. If a decision was made by a UK public authority to deny entry to the Northern Ireland marketplace goods sold in an EEA state, and the EEA economic operator considered this was incompatible with this regulation, he could lodge a case through SOLVIT. The IMI SOLVIT co-ordinator for the UK, based in my department, would then review the case and engage with the responsible authority in the UK to agree a response to the case to be submitted through the IMI.

The second purpose relates to the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a member state. EU directive 2014/60/EC sets out the procedures for the return to an EU state of objects that are national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value which have been unlawfully removed from that EU state to another EU state.

An EU state can enter a case on the IMI to send a notification of the EU state to which it is believed that the object has been taken. All reasonable steps would then be taken on receipt of the case to locate the object, to protect it until such time as it can be retrieved, or otherwise, if it cannot be located or has been found to have been legally imported. All action taken would then be recorded on the IMI. The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for cases that arrive through the IMI on the return of cultural objects.

The third and final purpose relates to control of the acquisition and possession of weapons. The relevant EU directive sets out the minimum standards for civilian firearm acquisition and possession in EEA states for the purpose of controlling the movement of weapons between EEA states. The IMI is used by EEA states to notify other EEA states where it has granted authorisation to a business or an individual to acquire a firearm from, or transfer a firearm to, another EEA state. The UK Department for International Trade is responsible for all such communications through the IMI on the control of firearms.

In conclusion, this instrument makes a series of essentially technical amendments to reflect the current position regarding the UK’s access to the IMI. It removes provisions that are no longer operable following the end of the implementation period and retains only those provisions necessary in respect of Northern Ireland to ensure that the UK can comply with certain obligations placed under the Northern Ireland protocol. In doing so, this instrument ensures that UK public authorities can continue to access the IMI where necessary to allow them securely, effectively and efficiently to deliver those obligations. On that basis, I commend these draft regulations to the House.