Northern Ireland Protocol: 'We'll look for alternatives' says Truss
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Manufacturing Northern Ireland (MNI) said there had been a “huge uptick” in the number of firms accepting the protocol is “here to stay”. However, many want it to “work better through simplifications”.
The survey comes as Liz Truss held her first meeting with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in a bid to break the deadlock over the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.
It found that manufacturers were more concerned with labour shortages than the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol came fourth in the list of top four concerns, after labour shortages, productivity and the pandemic.
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of MNI, told the Guardian: “The protocol was the least of their worries.
“While we all get caught up in the political narrative, in business the bigger concerns are staff recruitment, productivity and then the pandemic itself.
“It shows the narrative favoured by the DUP and others that Northern Ireland is going to hell in a handcart because of the protocol is quite clearly not the case, quite the opposite.”
The survey comes as the Foreign Secretary has said there is a “deal to be done” with the EU over the protocol.
Ms Truss, who took over the Brexit brief following Lord Frost’s resignation, met her EU counterpart at her official residence at Chevening in Kent on Thursday and Friday.
The pair agreed to hold further talks on January 24.
However, the Foreign Secretary refused to rule out the possibility the UK could invoke Article 16 – suspending part of the arrangements in the protocol – if they could not agree a way forward.
She said: “We have had constructive talks with the EU.
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“We are now going to going into intensive negotiations to work towards a negotiated solution to sort out these very real issues for the people of Northern Ireland.
“I think there is a deal to be done.
“I do want to make progress.
“Clearly if we don’t make sufficient progress we will have to look at the alternatives, but my absolute desire is to get a deal that works for the people of Northern Ireland.”
The Government is seeking substantial changes to the protocol – which forms part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – arguing that it is hampering the free movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and damaging community relations.
In a joint statement, Ms Truss and Mr Sefcovic said: “The meeting took place in a cordial atmosphere. They agreed that officials would meet next week in intensified talks and that the principals would meet again on January 24.
“We share a desire for a positive relationship between the EU and the UK underpinned by our shared belief in freedom and democracy.”
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