Brexit: 'Trouble' in Northern Ireland 'pleasing' EU says expert
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He was speaking shortly before holding talks with EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic over the delicate implementation of the post-Brexit trade rules for the region. Britain and the European Union are locked in a dispute over how the part of the Brexit divorce deal aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland works in practice. Unionists are furious that Brussels’ hardline interpretation of the rules sees the region essentially cut off from the rest of the UK.
They strongly oppose the additional customs controls on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from mainland Britain, saying the checks are undermining the union.
Sir Jeffrey said: “The EU needs to recognise that the Protocol has failed, it is creating very substantial problems in terms of barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, our biggest market, and distortions in trade.
“Indeed we know that not only has there been a diversion of trade where Northern Ireland businesses are now having to locate their supply chains in the Irish Republic, but contrary to what the Protocol actually says, the EU are using the grace periods to facilitate the Irish Republic in attracting more Northern Ireland companies to use them as their supply chain, and that is contrary to what the Protocol says, because it says if there is a disruption to trade then the UK Government may take action to correct that.
“It is having a damaging impact on our economy and of course fundamentally on our relationship with the rest of the UK.”
Sir Jeffrey described his message to Mr Sefcovic as “simple – the protocol has not worked”.
The newly-appointed DUP leader stressed that he wants Brussels to agree to a renegotiation of the provisions to avoid a hard border to ensure they “respect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK’s internal market”.
Currently, to avoid a hard bother, the area essentially remains in the EU’s single market, with trade checks on most goods arriving from the mainland.
Sir Jeffrey added: “If that doesn’t happen I think the UK is well within its rights to invoke Article 16 of the protocol which allows for unilateral action to be taken to correct a diversion of trade and its impact on our economy and our society.
“If the EU is not prepared to recognise the failings of the protocol then I think the UK is entitled to take unilateral actions in those circumstances.”
The DUP previously called for the protocol to be scrapped and last week set out seven tests for it if the main unionist party is to offer its support in the future.
They include a promise of no checks on any sort of goods set to Northern Ireland from Great Britain and compatibility with the Act of Union, which says all parts of the UK should be on an equal footing when it comes to trade.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission said Mr Sefcovic, the EU’s negotiator, had reached out to hold talks with Sir Jeffrey as part of his wider engagement with regional leaders.
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She told reporters: “There has been a virtual meeting as part of the vice-president’s outreach to Northern Ireland political leaders, stakeholders and civil society.
“As Mr Donaldson has been recently elected to lead the DUP it is only natural to establish a channel of communication and discuss implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“In recent weeks, the vice-president has spoken to all leaders of political parties forming the Northern Ireland executive.”
But Sir Jeffrey has accused the EU of “establishing and undermining” the delicate power-sharing arrangement at Stormont by offering its politicians no real say in the post-Brexit border arrangements.
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Lord Frost will today address the House of Commons’ powerful EU scrutiny committee to discuss the protocol.
Last week the Brexit minister said that concerns surrounding the protocol were ‘central’ to UK-EU tensions.
He added that he thought reaching a constructive relationship with the bloc wouldn’t happen without an agreed solution.
Lord Frost Frost has also warned that the recent spike in trade across the Irish border was a sign that Northern Irish firms were finding it too difficult to use their preferred suppliers in Britain.
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