A welcome move on the Northern Ireland Protocol – now we will see how it progresses

News Letter editorial on Tuesday June 14 2022:

By Editorial
Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 6:34 am
Updated Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 8:05 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The former first minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson writes, see link below, about the new government bill to overhaul the Irish Sea border.

The one-time DUP leader rightly refers to the “disastrous” Northern Ireland Protocol.

It is, as ever from Mr Robinson, an interesting analysis of a political challenge for unionism.

Much of what he says is reassuring advice given that it comes from someone who is still influential within the DUP — for example, that the party should not go into Stormont until there is specific delivery on legislative reform of the border.

Other of his points are of more dubious merit — such as the reference to the ‘best of both worlds’ and trading freely with two massive markets.

That would of course be agreeable, but we do need to be clear that unfettered trade with both is an ambitious goal, and that in a choice between the UK internal market and the EU single market the former must always prevail, even if that means barriers to the latter.

The government’s protocol bill does not achieve that full return to the UK internal market, or perhaps (depending, for example, on the outworking of enabling powers) even come close to it legally. However it would, if enacted, lead to an almost free flow of swathes of goods travelling Great Britain to NI (the direction in which there were most problems).

It would also, among other changes, prevent VAT changes being inapplicable in Northern Ireland and it would greatly constrain the European Court of Justice.

Even if the detail of the bill develop in ways that unionists want, it will only be a partial recovery from the aforesaid disaster. But the harder line from London has led to a complete change of conversation on the protocol, so that even its biggest advocates accept the need for flexible implementation.

This is all very welcome. Now we need to see how the bill progresses — if at all.