This morning the DUP held a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister on the Protocol and the problems that have arisen since its introduction.
Party Leader and First Minister Arlene Foster MLA set out starkly the damage the Protocol is having on GB-NI trade and its impact on the political balances and the impact of the decision by the EU to propose to invoke Article 16.
We pressed the Prime Minister to set out what he was now going to do to deal with the unfolding situation.
The Prime Minister indicated that he was deeply shocked “by the cavalier approach adopted by the EU” last Friday and without consultation. He recognised that such actions by the EU undermines the authority of the Protocol. Again it was made clear to him that the Protocol is without support within the Unionist community.
The Prime Minister said there was a duty under the Belfast Agreement to sort these matters out, that we could not have a situation within the United Kingdom where there were barriers to movement across a range of areas including plants, seed potatoes and British beef and that it was plain the Protocol was being used in an absurd way. The Prime Minister said what the EU was doing “goes beyond the bounds of common sense”. The DUP again made clear that this the reality of what was agreed by the UK and EU.
The Prime Minister said that he would use all the instruments at his disposal, including that he “is prepared to use Article 16” to get things done and to legislate if necessary.
The Prime Minister has said that his timetable for getting all these matters sorted is the end of March.
For our part we have been clear to the Prime Minister that the people and businesses of Northern Ireland cannot continue to be subjected to the undermining of Northern Ireland’s place with the UK internal market as a consequence of the protectionist attitude of the European Union. We want to see permanent solutions developed and barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland lifted. Sticking plaster solutions and grace periods that kick the can down the road will not solve these problems.
It is now up to the Prime Minister to back up his words with tangible actions that protect the integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom. We will continue to engage with the UK Government on all these issues but have underlined that long-term workable solutions will need to be found quickly because Northern Ireland needs to be free of this Protocol.