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The Northern Ireland Protocol has wrecked political stability in Northern Ireland and impacted on our constitutional position. It does not enjoy the support of Unionists, indeed none of the Unionist MLAs elected in the recent Assembly election support it.
The workings of both the Assembly and the Executive have been impacted since February. We want to see the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive restored but that can only be achieved when there is a sustainable basis for doing so.
Economically the Protocol has had a negative impact on many. Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of the Northern Ireland economy. The Protocol has been devastatingly costly for many businesses as well as reducing choice for consumers at a time when not all aspects of the Protocol have yet been implemented. Even those who were protocol cheerleaders now recognise it is unworkable if fully implemented.
The checks on the Irish Sea are the symptom of an underlying problem, namely, that Northern Ireland is subject to a different set of laws imposed upon us by a foreign entity without any say or vote by any elected representatives in either Belfast or London.
We are pleased to publish this paper, which also sets out the experiences of many who have been negatively impacted since the Protocol became law. Often the owners of businesses feel unable to speak out about these issues given the Pro-EU bias that exists within elements of the NI media. As elected representatives we are daily dealing with problems and queries caused by the Protocol.
The publication of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is a recognition that Northern Ireland cannot continue with the NI Protocol. It is important that this bill now progresses rapidly through its legislative stages in the Commons.
In our view the bill, alongside the regulations, if enacted, can help to restore the political equilibrium in Northern Ireland by replacing the Protocol with arrangements that restore NI's place within the UK.
On 1 July 2021, I made the case for decisive action and urged both the Government and the European Union to conclude discussions in a manner that would deal with the Protocol and its lack of support in the unionist community. That did not happen, in large measure because the European Union was not prepared to alter its negotiating mandate, instead preferring to propose measures within the context of the original legal text.
On this basis, the Government has no other option but to proceed with unilateral action to protect the stability of the Belfast Agreement institutions.