It has emerged that more than 200 British companies have cut trade ties with Northern Ireland because of the Irish Sea border – on top of the “existential threat to the Union” unionists say the Brexit arrangements have caused.
Secretary of State Brandon Lewis admitted that hundreds of GB firms have stopped supplying Northern Ireland. He also accepted that the protocol in its current form is “not sustainable”, while a Cabinet colleague revealed the extent of the commercial impact it was now having on this side of the Irish Sea.
Mr Lewis’s remarks to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster have intensified unionist concerns about the protocol-effect politically and economically.
The secretary of state told MPs on the committee: “We have got a situation where over 200 businesses in Great Britain are not supplying Northern Ireland. Citizens in Northern Ireland are not able to access products the way they want to. The committee would have seen evidence of people even getting Christmas cards with charges, with the Queen’s Jubilees trees, with the Jewish community and not just with kosher food but also with their (religious) artefacts.
“There are a whole of range of examples of products that are not able to flow. As a UK citizen those UK citizens should be able to access these let alone the businesses that need to keep up supply lines.”
Mr Lewis added: “The protocol is not sustainable and doesn’t work for businesses.”
Conor Burns, the minister of state for Northern Ireland, has revealed the eclectic range of GB-based businesses that have ceased trading with the Province due to the protocol’s outworkings.
They include the manufacturers of shortbread and cheese as well as kitchen appliances, he said.
He told The News Letter: “There is the macro level trade diversion, trade disruption and then there is the reality of the constriction of consumer choice, the imposition of additional costs on the consumer at a time of a very serious stretching of household budgets.
“When I go round Northern Ireland I meet people who tell me that there are makers of shortbread that are no longer supplying into here because the suppliers have decided that Northern Ireland is part of the EU and they won’t supply to the EU.
“There are cheese manufacturing businesses in Kent who no longer supply to Northern Ireland.
“I know a fellow whom I met on the eve of Remembrance Day who used to get jellied eels supplied from London to his business and can’t anymore.
“And there is a company who supply kitchen equipment who have to charge an additional £12 plus VAT for shipping for each of their domestic fat fyers they sell to Northern Ireland.”
Mr Burns added: “These are all real life examples of where the protocol is not working in the way that we had understood it would when we signed up to it in order to reflect the unique situation here in Northern Ireland.”
DUP Strangford candidate and a former Stormont education minister Peter Weir said that as well as posing “an existential threat” to Northern Ireland’s place in the UK it was also hitting people’s pockets and limiting consumer choice.
Mr Weir said the protocol had driven up haulage costs between GB and Northern Ireland by 27% while frustrating businesses and individuals trading with the Province’s most important partner – Great Britain.
“The Irish Sea border must go. It doesn’t represent the best of both worlds. It separates us from our main market, within our own country.
“Unchanged it can only get worse but we have made progress in convincing many of the merits of our case. The government knows the protocol does not enjoy unionist support. The EU can be in no doubt that the protocol casts a long shadow over Northern Ireland’s political arrangements. The protocol must be replaced with arrangements that protect Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, “ he said.
He said the protocol was now “hitting your pocket and limiting your choice”.
The TUV’s John Ross described as “an incredible claim” Alliance leader Naomi Long’s assertion that she has not encountered anyone in her East Belfastconstituency talking about the protocol.