European Parliament rebukes UK over NI Protocol checks, and demands 'full implementation'

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​The European Parliament has called on the UK Government to end the unilateral ‘grace periods’ around the Irish Sea border, demanding the “full implementation” of the NI Protocol.

​Following a plenary session in Strasbourg on Wednesday, 537 MEPs voted in support of the Windsor Framework document with 43 against.

The framework agreement was worked out between the EU and the UK as a way of resolving many of the difficulties that have affected post-Brexit trade between Northern Ireland and GB.

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However, the DUP and many other unionists remain concerned that the new framework does not address the main constitutional issues associated with the NI Protocol and its implementation.

In a statement on Wednesday, the European Parliament said: “Parliament condemns the unilateral ‘grace periods’ used by successive UK governments to avoid enforcing border controls in the Irish Sea, which are a ‘clear breach’ of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

"It welcomes both the Windsor Framework, and the subsequent announcement that the UK Government will halt the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. MEPs underline that, according to the UK Government itself, ‘democratic consent’ for the Protocol must be provided in due time by a simple majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

The TUV responded to the European Parliament statement, saying it was now clear that the “Windsor Whitewash” only slightly amends the NI Protocol rather than replace it.

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"All of the fundamentals of the protocol remain in place,” TUV councillor Harold McKee said.

The European Parliament in StrasbourgThe European Parliament in Strasbourg
The European Parliament in Strasbourg

“There is still a sea border cutting us off from the rest of the nation. Northern Ireland remains in a foreign single market and customs union. We alone remain subject to foreign laws we do not make and cannot change overseen by a foreign court.

“With every passing day the reality of just how little has changed as a result of the Prime Minister’s deal with the EU is being hammered home.”

Cllr McKee added: “It is time that unionists got back to a place where we are all united behind the unionist declaration, which all our leaders signed, pledging themselves to maintain an ‘unalterable position’ that the protocol must be rejected and replaced by arrangements which fully respect Northern Ireland’s position as a constituent and integral part of the United Kingdom.”

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European Parliament rapporteur for the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, Pedro Silva Pereira, said: “It has been almost seven years since the referendum and almost three years since entry into force of the Withdrawal Agreement. While it has not always been an easy or pleasant path to get here, we are hopeful that the Windsor Framework lays the foundations for the building blocks of a new relationship with the UK.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was the agreed solution to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, safeguarding the Good Friday Agreement, while protecting the integrity of the single market.

"With better sharing of customs data and a more flexible, but also more effective system of customs checks with green and red lanes according to the final destination of goods entering Northern Ireland, the original aims of the Protocol are preserved.

"We hope that power-sharing returns to Northern Ireland as soon as possible so that we can all celebrate properly the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.”

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The evening before Wednesday’s vote in Strasbourg, NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris met with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in the city to discuss the latest agreement.

Afterwards, Mr Heaton-Harris tweeted: “The Windsor Framework is a good deal for Northern Ireland, protects the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and delivers for both. Great to be in Strasbourg today to discuss the Framework with MEPs and see @MarosSefcovic again.”

Former Labour MP, Baroness Kate Hoey responded to Mr Heaton-Harris with her own tweet, saying: “I don’t think you genuinely believe this spin.”