Northern Ireland Protocol: Manufacturer challenges ‘pervading narrative’ and statistics

A Craigavon manufacturer claims that the public narrative about the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol is not accurately reflecting the difficulties being experienced by businesses like his.

By Philip Bradfield
Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 7:49 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 8:42 pm

A Craigavon manufacturer claims that the public narrative about the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol is not accurately reflecting the difficulties being experienced by businesses like his.

Ashley Pigott is managing director of AJ Power in Craigavon, which exports diesel generators to more than 80 countries. In yesterday’s News Letter he explained how the NI Protocol had already added extra costs on his business of “six figures” thanks to extra duties and paperwork when importing components from GB. And he said that these costs are likely to double when the Government Trader Support Service winds up.

Mr Pigott claimed the public narrative on the challenges being faced by businesses like his was being distorted by trade associations, “lazy journalism” the overlaying of “remain politics” on top of the commercial discussions.

EU customs checks are now carried out on Larne on good coming in from GB. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

He also claimed that other businesses who are struggling will not speak out because they are afraid of being associated with party politics or may be afraid that speaking out could undermine government contracts they have.

“The biggest growth in the past five years are trade associations and they are all experts, but has anybody ever done any validation and auditing of what they are and who they are?” he asked.

He questions the reliability of figures provided by Manufacturing NI (MNI), which has reported that 80% of manufacturing companies in NI wish to keep the Protocol. Looking at page three of the report compiled by MNI, he points out that it says: “An online survey was emailed to manufacturing businesses in Northern Ireland [in April 2022]. A total of 130 questionnaires were completed and analysed.” He calculates that this works out as 2% of the manufacturing businesses in NI.

He said that such statistics are not being peer reviewed and that to be understood, the 80% claim would have to be weighted in terms of massive manufacturers who have great challenges with EU paperwork and small businesses that don’t.

Ashley Pigott, Managing Director of AJ Power in Craigavon has called for the Northern Ireland Protocol to be scrapped.

His solution to the problems he faces with the Protocol is to expand the model already used by the Republic of Ireland when importing goods from GB; The south of Ireland already has “customs entries” checks on goods as they arrive from the UK, otherwise known as a’ trusted trader scheme’.

“You have to understand that there is a narrative out there that the Protocol is good...and that is just what is being pushed at every turn. But you have to look through and beyond a lot of lazy journalism because people don’t look behind the glass to see what is there.

“There are certain people coming on shouting and screaming that the Protocol is great,” he says. But when you look at their accounts they are a small company whose main business might be within an EU country such as Poland - so therefore they are not facing the same challenges as him, he says.

And he questioned the reliability of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI on the matter. He claims that during the Brexit campaign they urged members in NI to urge their employees to vote remain. And he says that big agricultural processors who sell into the EU but who don’t import from GB and have no protocol issues are key members. The CBI did not respond.

“The key issue is that the long term competitive nature of Northern Ireland manufacturing is essential to secure people’s livelihoods.”Manufacturing NI responded that in 2019 it secured the most comprehensive list of manufacturing in Northern Ireland, with 6402 subscribers. It surveyed the list five times since then and secured 945 responses, it said. The April survey was conducted by market research agency Perceptive Insights with the support of law firm Tughans; 99% of respondents say they have suppliers in GB. Consistently through 2021, 1 in 5 manufacturers said they wished the Protocol to be replaced, this has dropped to 1 in 8 in the latest survey.”

However, at the time of going to press it is not clear how 130 questionnaires returned in April would make a representative sample of over 6000 manufacturing companies in NI.