Sir Jeffrey – “Short-term fixes will not solve the problems”

DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP has described the latest proposals from EU Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic as the EU’s “starting point” but said that on first inspection they would appear to “fall far short of the fundamental change needed”.

Commenting Sir Jeffrey said, “The imposition of the Protocol has harmed the balances created by the Belfast Agreement, and subsequent agreements, and were the situation to remain unaltered would undo the political progress of the last twenty years.

For most of 2021 both the European Union and indeed many closer to home cheerled for the Protocol and refused to concede that further negotiations and changes would be necessary. So the publication of these proposals is a welcome acknowledgement that the NI Protocol has not worked and does not have the consent of the unionist community in Northern Ireland. I welcome the attention that Vice President Maros Sefcovic and his team has given to these matters and for the engagement to date and I urge them to re-double their efforts in the coming period.”

Turning to the proposals the Democratic Unionist Leader said,

“We will take time to study the detail of the papers produced. However there is no escaping the reality that the Northern Ireland Protocol has harmed Northern Ireland, both in economic and constitutional terms.

The forthcoming negotiations between the UK Government and the European Union present an opportunity to replace the Protocol with new arrangements that deal with the present foundational weaknesses, namely that we have a trade border within the United Kingdom flowing from the reality that Northern Ireland follows different laws for goods than the rest of the United Kingdom. The solution must also deal with future governance arrangements for dispute resolution, including where changes to EU laws have the potential to result in further divergence.

It is vital this new round of negotiations does not become another missed opportunity to make fundamental change and to replace the Protocol. Short-term fixes will not solve the problems that have beset the United Kingdom internal market. We welcome the comments from Lord Frost, regarding the need for a replacement of the Protocol and in particular his proposal that arrangements be put in place that respect the integrity of Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market, whilst establishing practical arrangements for trade with the EU.

Short–term fixes that reduce checks and potentially give the appearance of easements compared to the current time will not of themselves solve the problem of divergence within the United Kingdom. Other less talked about aspects of the current Protocol – State Aid and VAT arrangements- if left unaltered will be detrimental to Northern Ireland’s long term prospects.

Constitutionally, this Irish Sea border violates the Acts of Union and is opposed by every elected unionist in Northern Ireland. Rather than cement peace and stability, the Protocol has been the catalyst for instability.

Back in July I outlined our seven tests that we would use to measure new arrangements. They were based on commitments already made to Northern Ireland. At their heart was the removal of the Irish Sea border. Economically it has damaged trade between us and our main market and politically it has undermined the Union by placing a border between one part of the United Kingdom and another.

These proposals clearly fall a long way short of being the basis of a sustainable solution and are presented within the framework of a Protocol that has failed. The proposals in the Government Command paper, in our view, are the best direction of travel to start creating sustainable arrangements for Northern Ireland.

We have a window of opportunity to get this right. The prize for doing so will be great for both sides but most of all for the people of Northern Ireland who can break free from the Protocol infecting day to day decisions.”

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