MEETINGS of key bodies set up to “smooth” the relationship between the EU and UK after Brexit are taking place “rarely”, a new research report has warned.

The issues around the Northern Ireland protocol will be an “almost intractable” problem for the next Prime Minister, the briefing from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) also noted.

The last meeting of the Joint Committee, which should meet at least once a year under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, took place six months ago, researchers found.

The Partnership Council, co-chaired by European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, is also required to hold annual meetings but this has only taken place once, on 9 June 2021.

READ MORE: Support for rejoining the EU skyrockets among voters in Scotland

Meanwhile, most of the 18 specialised committees which cover policy areas - including devolved issues - have met once, with only a few examples of meetings being held more frequently.

Both the Withdrawal Agreement and the trade deal stuck with the EU included these arrangements to oversee their operation and address any “potential breakdowns in the relationship”, the report noted.

It said: “The Partnership Council and Specialised Committees should play a key role in developing and managing the EU-UK relationship after Brexit.

“The fact these bodies have met comparatively rarely suggests the relationship is not functioning as smoothly as both sides would have hoped with little prospect of any discussions leading to a more integrated relationship in the short term.”

According to information published by the UK Government, the trade specialised committee – which discussed goods market access issues between the UK and the EU – has met once on October 8 2021. Under the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is it expected to meet “at least once a year”.

Other forums which have only met once include committees on customs rules, intellectual property, regulatory co-operation, technical barriers to trade and aviation safety.

READ MORE: Brexit damaging west coast 'lifeline' flights to Cambeltown, Tiree and Barra

The report, called "EU-UK Relations – A New Hope or Groundhog Day?" examines whether a new Prime Minster will bring an opportunity for a “reset in relations”.

However, it says that this will depend on the approach of Truss or Rishi Sunak to addressing the challenges created by the Northern Ireland Protocol – which has led to the European Commission launching legal action against the UK Government.

The UK Government response to these challenges – one around the UK’s unilateral action to extend grace periods for goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and the other for “not complying with significant parts” of the Protocol – is due in mid-September.

The briefing concludes: “The change in Prime Minister as a result of Boris Johnson’s resignation might be seen as an opportunity for a reset in the EU-UK relationship.

“However, both Elizabeth Truss and Rishi Sunak have pledged to continue with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which is currently a major obstacle preventing any reset from the EU’s perspective.

“Even if a new Prime Minister was to drop the Bill challenges would remain.

“Addressing Northern Ireland Unionists’ concerns about the operation of the Protocol whilst meeting the EU’s insistence that the Protocol should be implemented in full make this an almost intractable problem for the next head of government.”