Writing in the Belfast News Letter DUP Leader and First Minister Arlene Foster outlined how the Party is pressing the Government for mitigations to deal with problems created by the NI Protocol.
The disruption to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a direct consequence of the Northern Ireland Protocol rather than the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. There is no disruption to internal UK trade between England and Scotland or Wales and Scotland.
The Government created this arrangement therefore the DUP team in Westminster and Stormont is pressing the Government to step up, relax the rules and take time to properly fix the problems. The internal market of the United Kingdom must be able function for timely trade but as UK citizens, we should be able to move our belongings freely throughout the UK.
I am proud to be part of the United Kingdom and cherish my unionism but it grieves me that these arrangements were implemented against our will. This is despite our consistent warnings over the last four years about the implications for Northern Ireland if barriers were placed between us and Great Britain, our main trading partner.
With retailers describing the new system as unworkable, there must be intensified efforts to prevent and minimise barriers to trade. The Prime Minister has indicated his willingness to invoke Article 16 where serious difficulties persist and that is welcome but in the meantime we must work for solutions.
Predictably, some have used the turmoil at our ports and supermarkets to launch an attack on this Party’s approach to the referendum and negotiations that followed. Whilst my focus remains on finding practical solutions for those disadvantaged by the new arrangements, it is necessary to dispel some of the myths and misrepresentations of recent days.
I have been asked whether accepting Theresa May’s backstop could have avoided the problems we face today. The answer to that question is no. The backstop agreed in November 2018 would still have tied Northern Ireland to EU regulatory rules for goods, agri-food, SPS, VAT and state aid - just like is the case today. The Attorney General also made it clear in his legal advice, that Northern Ireland would remain locked in the Customs Union and the arrangements could ‘endure indefinitely.’ In any case, Mrs May’s deal couldn’t even gain the support of her own party but would have led us to the same position as we are in today just at a different speed.
Some also claim that the DUP consented to a border in the Irish Sea in October 2019. This is nonsense and not grounded in fact. At that time the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson was deciding on key asks for the next round of negotiations with the EU. The DUP supported his plans in principle because they included the aim that Northern Ireland would leave the EU Customs Union alongside the rest of the UK and that any regulatory difference with GB would only be agreed if FIRST approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly on a cross community basis thus giving us a veto. When the consent of the NI Assembly was removed, the DUP voted against the Government’s deal.
In truth, the past four and a half years have been difficult and divisive for politics in Northern Ireland. Understandably there will be different perspectives on the events that have led us to this point. What matters now is that we work with a common purpose and a determination to overcome the new set of challenges presented by the Protocol. In this our centenary year, I will continue to do everything in my power to defend the interests of businesses and families across Northern Ireland and protect our position as an integral part of the United Kingdom. We have secured some mitigations to alleviate problems in some sectors and we will work intensively to ensure the Government finds solutions for each and every sector.