UK Government urged to ‘act unilaterally’ over Northern Ireland Protocol

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The UK Government has been urged to “act unilaterally” over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking after a meeting of the UK/EU committee for implementing the mechanism, Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said government must “step up and protect the internal market”.

In a joint statement after the virtual meeting on Wednesday, co-chairmen Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said both sides committed to the “proper implementation” of the protocol.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“In that spirit, the EU and UK reiterated their full commitment to the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions, and to the proper implementation of the protocol,” they said.

“The UK and the EU underlined their shared commitment to giving effect to those solutions agreed through the Joint Committee on December 17 2020, without delay.

“The UK noted that it would provide a new operational plan with respect to supermarkets and their suppliers, alongside additional investment in digital solutions for traders in accordance with the protocol.”

A further meeting of the joint committee is set to take place to “provide further steers and where appropriate approvals”.

Graffiti reading ‘No Irish Sea border’ Stroud Street in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

The protocol was designed by the EU and UK to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

It achieves this by moving regulatory and customs checks to the Irish Sea, with goods imported into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK subject to a range of new processes.

This has caused some disruption to trade since it came into effect on December 31, disruption that could intensify significantly on April 1 when a grace period currently limiting the bureaucracy applied to imported supermarket goods ends.

Mrs Foster described the meeting as “hugely disappointing” and blasted European officials as “tone deaf”.

However deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described the meeting as “very constructive” and welcomed that “both sides committed to try and define practical solutions”.

Mrs Foster later demanded action from the UK.

“It is time for the United Kingdom Government to act unilaterally,” she said.

“The grace period ends next month, yet the European Union refused to recognise the problems or offer any sensible solutions.

“From January 29 until February 24 the European Union has prevaricated, dragged its feet and closed its eyes to the serious crisis within our supply chain.

“The Prime Minister told the House of Commons that there would be unfettered trade within the United Kingdom, yet the Northern Ireland protocol has completely ruptured the flow of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“Whether from a constitutional or economic point of view, Northern Ireland cannot be cut off from our main trading partner by a protocol which not a single unionist party in Northern Ireland supports.

“With a stubborn and inflexible response from Brussels it is now a matter for the Government to step up and protect the United Kingdom internal market.

“Such a disruption of trade within the UK internal market should not be tolerated by the Government.

“It is offensive to the very core principles of the United Kingdom.”

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