Report sets out benefits of trade with GB over RoI
A freshly compiled report on where the bulk of Northern Ireland’s goods come from shows there are “five times more reasons” to prioritise trade with Great Britain as opposed to the Republic.
That is the view of Sammy Wilson who made the remarks in response to a research document produced by the Department for the Economy, which sets the value of British and Irish business side-by-side.
The News Letter discovered the research document, published last week, while combing through a stack of online departmental data.
And whilst there have been many previous cases of people pointing out that Northern Ireland does more trade across the Irish Sea than the land border, these figures set out the gap in stark terms at a critical juncture – just when the DUP is deciding what its next move will be to try and kill off the protocol, which it blames for bringing the Irish Sea border into being.
Mr Wilson said: “It does confirm – very, very clearly – that looking at where the benefits for business in NI come from, [it’s] from GB.
“Any disruption of that trade will never be replaced by our trade with the EU or with the Irish Republic.
“It’s worth reminding ourselves that despite all the attention that’s given to north/south trade, of the need to keep the corridors between Northern Ireland and the Republic open, there are five times more reasons, according to those statistics, for keeping the trade corridor between GB and Northern Ireland open ...
“It’s one of the arguments we’ve used frequently and will continue to use with the UK government.
“Leaving aside the constitutional arguments about the democratic deficit, and the fact laws are going to be made for us in Brussels rather than Westminster – leave all that aside. There are sound commercial reasons for dealing with this.”
The figures show that:
l Companies in Northern Ireland bought goods worth £2.4 billion from the Republic of Ireland in 2018, another £2.4 billion from the rest of the EU, and £10.4 billion from Great Britain.
l Another chart shows that in the same year, Northern Ireland sold £6.6 billion-worth of goods to Britain, £3.1 billion to Ireland, and £2.1 billion to the rest of the EU.
l The document also shows that in terms of inward investment (the number of non-Northern Irish firms which have ploughed their capital into the Province), Britain is head and shoulders above any other nation in its presence here.
l It had the greatest number of such companies – 139 of them, totalling £489.9m of investment (covering the years 2014 to 2019).
l By contrast, and despite sharing a land border, the Republic had 71 such companies in the Province, with an investment value of £138.5m.
Whilst the DUP has been strident in calling for the protocol to be ditched, some loyalists and political rivals have blamed the party for the fact that it was allowed to come into being.
For example, this newspaper reported last year that documents showed staff in Edwin Poots’ agriculture department were themselves setting up Irish Sea border infrastructure at Northern Irish ports, while Mr Poots himself spoke out against such a border.
It was put to Mr Wilson that some loyalists hold the DUP responsible for the present predicament (for example, Carrickfergus, in the heart of his constituency, graffiti proclaims things like “DUP OUT” and “PROTOCOL = WAR”).
“That’s just nonsense,” replied Mr Wilson.
“The people who are writing this are just ignorant of the facts.
“We were the first to highlight the difficulties in Mrs May’s protocol, the first to highlight the difficulties in Boris Johnson’s version.
“We continually raised those issues.
“People who write those things haven’t even looked at the basic facts. I defy anybody to indicate what role I played personally – or the party played – in putting the protocol in place or even indeed acquiescing in the protocol.
“There’s not a shred of evidence of that.”
On Wednesday, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald drew a baffled response from UUP peer Sir Reg Empey, after she said that efforts to roll back the protocol are opposed by “many within wider unionism”.
Sir Reg responded: “I know of no unionist who is in favour of the protocol.”
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