Writing in today's Daily Telegraph, DUP Leader and Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster said,
In both the House of Commons and during a telephone call with us yesterday, the Prime Minister committed to protect the UK internal market by all legislative means necessary including triggering article 16. He must now back up those words with tangible actions that protect the integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom.
The Northern Ireland Protocol has not worked, cannot work and in light of our proposals to the Government, needs to be replaced.
The proposal to invoke Article 16 by the EU Commission was not to protect the people of Northern Ireland but to prevent them, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, from being able to access the supply of vaccines. This was a calculated and provocative action and an action they reserve the right to take again.
We have repeatedly warned the Government about the serious disruption caused to our GB-NI supply lines by the Protocol. Indeed, when we talked to the Prime Minister yesterday, he agreed that what the EU was doing “goes beyond the bounds of common sense”. The scale of the unnecessary paperwork and procedures for business is wholly disproportionate to the risks. These are not teething problems as the Government initially suggested.
Indeed, across Northern Ireland there is growing anger at the current arrangements. The delicate political balance and relationships in Northern Ireland have been damaged and disturbed by the Protocol.
The Northern Ireland Protocol has ruptured the United Kingdom internal market in order to give armour-plated protection to the single market of the European Union.
There is no risk to the EU single market:
- from goods coming to Northern Ireland for circulation and sale wholly within Northern Ireland from trusted and reliable traders.
- from medical devices ordered for particular patients or surgeries in NI from GB suppliers.
- from GB soil on a rose or second-hand digger coming into another part of the United Kingdom, as it has done for decades.
- of rabies from pets travelling to NI, within our United Kingdom as it has not existed in either jurisdiction for many, many years.
This all amounts to bureaucracy over logic and disruption to supply lines with no actual risk.
The answer though does not lie in continuing grace periods. That is not sufficient. We need permanent solutions that include significant exemptions for goods for sale within Northern Ireland.
We have indicated to the Government that both the actions of the EU last Friday and the damage being inflicted on our East –West links within the United Kingdom, cannot continue if Northern Ireland’s political and economic links to the rest of the United Kingdom are to be maintained and respected in all their parts. The Protocol has upset the balance of relationships flowing from the Belfast Agreement that many others claimed were unalterable.
The Government needs to be bold and be prepared to act to bring about outcomes that underpin Northern Ireland’s full place in the most important internal market for us – that of the United Kingdom.
Progress in Northern Ireland was hard won and in recent times it was a well-established principle that in order to respect the delicate community balance within Northern Ireland no governance arrangements could advance unless they had the support of both unionists and nationalists as to do otherwise would result in failure and greater division.
It is now the solemn responsibility of all those in leadership but, particularly the UK Government, to move quickly to bring about solutions to the significant societal, environmental and economic difficulties caused by a Protocol, remembering that not a single unionist party in Northern Ireland supports this flawed Protocol.