Arlene Foster says Boris Johnson sees flaws in the Northern Ireland Protocol – even though he still backs it

Arlene Foster has claimed that Boris Johnson is “beginning to realise” the scale of the problems associated with the Irish Sea border.

Thursday, 8th April 2021, 5:18 pm
Arlene Foster made the comments in a think tank interview yesterday

Despite the prime minister repeatedly stating his commitment to the Northern Ireland Protocol – the deal which created the trade frontier – the first minister indicated hope that he was coming closer to the DUP’s thinking.

Speaking yesterday during a virtual interview for the Institute of Economic Affairs, a right-wing think-tank, the DUP leader set out the now-familiar list of practical problems flowing from the protocol – everything from British pot plants being banned from Northern Ireland to mountains of red tape for those buying from the rest of the UK.

However, she went on to say: “I think the prime minister, for his own part, is beginning to realise the huge impact that the protocol is having – not just in terms of trade, but in terms of ... the awful scenes on our streets, and the protocol has contributed to that because people feel that they’re being treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.”

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Although last month Mr Johnson angered the EU by unilaterally extending several grace periods which delay full implementation of the protocol, he has consistently made clear that he stands by the deal and does not support unionist calls for its removal.

Just last week, Mr Johnson’s senior Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost, handed to the EU a ‘roadmap’ to set out how the UK can fully implement the Irish Sea border. However, despite Mr Johnson’s continued support for the protocol and his repeated betrayal of the DUP, during the hour-long interview Mrs Foster reserved her criticism for the EU.

The first minister denounced the protocol, arguing that it has led to a “completely disproportionate situation” where trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been “severely disrupted”.

She said: “At the beginning of January we had lorries which were having real difficulties coming back into Northern Ireland, we had extra costs put on by Great Britain businesses selling to Northern Ireland, some of them have actually stopped sending goods to Northern Ireland, frankly because they can’t be bothered with the hassle of filling out forms and having to complete a whole range of forms which weren’t there before.

“I even had emails from constituents saying that GB-based companies are now writing to them and saying, ‘now that you’re no longer part of the United Kingdom’, it’s completely offensive for those of us who live here and know we are very much part of the United Kingdom.

“Even with grace periods we still have 20% of the whole European Union checks happening between GB and Northern Ireland. It’s totally disproportionate and it needs to be sorted out.”

Mrs Foster also indicated an ambition to one day become an MP – something which could only happen if she resigned as an MLA.

She said: “I’ve always had a desire to go to Westminster – I’ve never hidden that fact – because it is the mother of Parliaments ... I don’t rule that out at all, but at the moment I have quite an in-tray to deal with as first minister of Northern Ireland and I’ll certainly continue to do that for as long as I’m able to.”