Edwin Poots: Northern Ireland Protocol is ‘undeliverable’ says incoming DUP leader

Incoming DUP leader Edwin Poots has claimed the NI Protocol is “undeliverable” and indicated he may order officials to halt border checks if the issue is not resolved.

Monday, 24th May 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Monday, 24th May 2021, 9:24 am

A new raft of checks on goods at the ports of Belfast and Larne under the terms of the protocol have sparked anger among unionists and loyalists who feel Northern Ireland is being separated from the rest of the UK.

He was speaking after it was revealed that food manufacturers are rushing to poach trade experts to deal with continued difficulties getting products in and out of Northern Ireland due to Brexit.

A new report by the The New Street Consulting Group said businesses have been having problems exporting and importing goods in and out of NI since January, when the post Brexit trade agreement came into effect - and that experts who are being headhunted to cope with paperwork are being paid up to £1000 a day.

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New DUP leader Edwin Poots speaking to PA Media at the party's offices in Stormont Parliament Buildings. Picture date: Tuesday May 18, 2021.

While talks are continuing the EU and UK Government over solving some of the issues lined to the protocol, both the outgoing DUP leader Arlene Foster, and her incoming successor have insisted it must be scrapped.

“We don’t have the staff to actually do this job,” Mr Poots said. The number of vets are “non-existent” he said as it takes five years to train them and there is already a UK-wide shortage.

“What I am saying and saying clearly, is that is not practical, and is not possible.

“We need to go back to the drawing board, and I believe that there are solutions.”

Mr Poots said he wants to facilitate the EU in the protection of the single market, but said the level of checks required at Northern Irish ports was disproportionate.

He said the political arguments against the Protocol from unionism are being heard by the UK Government.

“We’re also looking at the legal remedies and I have consulted with senior counsel based in London on this. I would hope to lead a challenge from a number of departments: health, economy and indeed my own department of agriculture and environment on this issue.”

Another option, which he described as a “last resort” was non-compliance with border checks. There are not enough vets in the UK to cover the customs checks in NI, he said.

“The problem with the protocol is that it is undeliverable.” He added: “I think that people in the European Union need to waken up to it. “I think the UK Government have woken up to it.”

Meanwhile, a report from the New Street Consulting Group, says food manufacturers are rushing to poach experts to deal with continued difficulties getting products in and out of Northern Ireland.

The New Street Consulting Group said businesses have had problems exporting and importing goods in and out of Northern Ireland since January, when the post Brexit trade agreement came into effect.

Checks being made on products entering and leaving Northern Ireland are causing transportation delays and some product shortages, it was claimed.

Experts are being poached from companies and paid up to £1,000 a day, said the consultants.

Laurence Frantzis, director at New Street Consulting Group, said: “Smaller businesses are having particular difficulty in sourcing these interim experts and paying the top rates for their services.

“Many of the larger food producers and manufacturers snapped up some of the leading experts before January 1 in anticipation of problems occurring.

“Brexit is causing problems every day to food and drinks businesses on a scale not seen before.” The challenge is to retrain people quickly enough to solve all those new trade and supply chain issues, he said.

A wide range of stakholders said the report underlines the need for urgent action.

Glyn Roberts, CEO of Retail NI, said the report shows the UK and EU must find solutions before the grace period of regulation ends in October.

“There is a huge threat, especially to small and independent traders,” he said. “This has been described as a ticking time bomb - and there is also the potential political instability.”

Stephen Kelly, CEO of Manufacturing NI, added that their latest survey shows that the preparedness and willingness of GB suppliers “continues to be the biggest challenge for NI’s manufacturers”.

And TUV leader Jim Allister said the report is “another snapshot of the Union-dismantling Protocol, which legally designates our biggest supply market, GB, as a foreign country.”

DUP MP Ian Paisley responded that GB to NI trade currently undergoes “more checks than worldwide trade entering the port of Rotterdam”. He added:”These checks are nothing to do with protecting the EU Single Market and everything to do with punishing the U.K. for leaving the European Union.”

And Lady Hoey responded that every day a new problem emerges from the Protocol. “It is now absolutely clear that it must go.” she said.

David Campbell, chair of the Loyalist Communities Council added: “The Prime Minister needs to urgently consider calling time on the Protocol”.

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