DUP minister Diane Dodds U-turns within 24 hours to say DUP would now accept sSwiss-style deal to reduce Irish Sea border

DUP Economy Minister Diane Dodds has performed a rapid U-turn to say that she now has no opposition to the UK more closely aligning with EU rules in order to reduce the scale of the Irish Sea border.

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 11:48 am
A Swiss-style agreement to follow EU rules on plants, food and animals could significantly scale back the Irish Sea border
A Swiss-style agreement to follow EU rules on plants, food and animals could significantly scale back the Irish Sea border

In the Assembly on Tuesday, Mrs Dodds perturbed some unionists by appearing to reject a proposal which would reduce the scale of the new internal UK trade frontier.

At present, it is only Northern Ireland which has to follow EU regulations relevant to the EU’s single market for goods and customs union, but Diane Dodds rejected the suggestion of the whole UK aligning with the EU in a more limited way to reduce the scale of the Irish Sea border.

She was pressed by the SDLP’s Matthew O’Toole on whether she would support a Swiss-style UK veterinary and plant agreement with the EU to remove many of the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks between GB and NI.

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Switzerland follows EU rules on agri-food – even though as a non-EU member it has no democratic decision-making power over those rules.

The DUP minister, who has long been a committed Brexiteer, dismissed that suggestion because of its implications for the shape of Brexit, even though it would eliminate many of the most onerous checks required between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – as well as the complete ban on certain items, such as British soil, from entering Northern Ireland.

Mrs Dodds told Mr O’Toole that “the Swiss-type arrangement that he talks about requires the whole of the UK slavishly to follow EU rules in every respect” and went on to belittle such an arrangement.

There was a backlash to Mrs Dodds’ comments on Tuesday night and yesterday morning Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken told Good Morning Ulster that “when she was given the opening to point out that here is something that could help dismantle the Irish Sea border, she seemed to go down the line of we need to be following the hard Brexit path and that is not what we need to do – anything we can do to break down the border is something that we should be doing”.

Less than an hour later, Mrs Dodds appeared on the programme to state that she would accept such a change.

Explaining her comments to MLAs, Mrs Dodds said that “I, knowing the position of the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson, was just simply reflecting that I would not envisage that that would be the case [the whole UK – as opposed to just Northern Ireland, as at present – following EU rules.”

She went on to say: “I’m not against anything that will bring any short term relief, and I’m not against a Swiss-style deal in and of itself.” Expressing scepticism about the prospects of the government accepting such an arrangement, she added: “But, if they support that, then that is fine.”

Last week the Tory Agriculture Secretary, George Eustice, said that the government had told the EU that “we want to work on a veterinary partnership agreement with the EU...so that we can try to get some easements to make sure that goods can flow more smoothly.”

When asked about a Swiss-type deal, TUV leader Jim Allister said that “even if delivered, which would do some despite to Brexit for the whole of the UK, it doesn’t mitigate the protocol in that it is still wholly unacceptable because of the constitutional change it makes such as laws being made in a foreign jurisdiction - it doesn’t for me change anything.”

Pressed on his preference if the choice is between the current Irish Sea border or a Swiss-type situation, Mr Allister told the News letter that the Swiss arrangement would be “a less harsh manifestation of the protocol but the protocol would still be possessed of all the constitution-busting components of being subject to foreign laws u cant change, subject to a foreign court, etc...it might ameliorate some practical manifestations of protocol but doesn’t change the essence of the protocol.”

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