Progress had been made but there remains more work to be done. The focus now must not be on dates or calendars but on getting this right and securing a stable and sustainable platform for Northern Ireland.
The safe passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to the next stage, with a sizable majority, is an important reflection of strong support in Parliament to restore the equilibrium in Northern Ireland. More than that, it is an acknowledgement of the legitimate concerns expressed regarding the impact of the Irish Sea border on the rights of British citizens living in Northern Ireland.
Our collective aim must be to restore Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the United Kingdom. I say collective because this is not the DUP’s objective alone. Instead, it is consistent with the government’s clear commitment in New Decade New Approach to respect Northern I’s place within the UK internal market.
For two years we warned about the flaws of the protocol. We were patient when setting out the implications for devolved government if the EU was not prepared to alter its negotiating position. Regrettably, time ran out and matters had to be brought to a head.
The DUP now has a mandate to deal with the protocol. It remains our desire to see the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the full functioning of the NI Executive moving forward. We are already engaged in discussions with other parties in NI on what political programmes and action plans we can agree. Future agreement however must be on a basis that is fair and sustainable. It cannot be on the basis where unionism’s concerns are discarded by a coalition of the unwilling.
We are focused on restoring consensus politics, that is central to making Stormont work, meanwhile the protocol cheerleaders seem focused on enshrining majority rule.
People across Parliament now accept that the full impact of the protocol is being masked by a range of grace periods unilaterally provided by the government. It is telling, and vindication for the progression of the government’s legislation, that the EU is more fixated with challenging these vital protections through the courts than finding acceptable alternative arrangements to the protocol problem.
The seemingly unalterable attitude adopted by Brussels is demonstration that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is now the only route to finding solutions. Alongside regulations that will need to be brought forward, the content of the bill can remove the protocol’s long shadow from Northern Ireland.
It can deal with both our economic and constitutional concerns. By providing the framework for the free movement of goods within the UK internal market, trade barriers can be removed. This includes reasonable protection for the EU single market against the movement of goods across the land border that don’t meet the rules of that market.
HM Treasury will be able to bring forward UK-wide measures on VAT, ensuring NI consumers are not left behind at a time of significant challenges for households.
This is the prize that can be achieved if the intent and form of this bill is retained and strengthened moving forward. To that end, the government must resist amendments designed to neuter the bill. The protocol has already cost NI dearly. We must press ahead with the legislation and secure stability in Northern Ireland.
l Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP is DUP leader