Northern Ireland Protocol has trashed the Belfast Agreement: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
The Northern Ireland Protocol has “trashed the Belfast Agreement” and this must be emphasised on his US visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the DUP leader has said.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has accused both US President Joe Biden and former EU commissioner Michel Barnier of falsely claiming that the agreement “is protected by the protocol”.
Sir Jeffrey said: “The protocol has trashed the Belfast Agreement. It has turned the carefully balanced relationships of north-south and east-west on their heads.
“The Prime Minister needs to call out those with a flawed interpretation of the Belfast Agreement and the NI Protocol. Rather than cementing peace and stability, the protocol is costing Northern Ireland £850m per year by placing a border in the Irish Sea between us and our main trading partner.”
He said that whilst every unionist party in the Northern Ireland Assembly is opposed to the protocol “it is not just a unionist issue.”
“Everyone uses our supermarkets and buys products from Amazon. Even our medicine supply has been placed in jeopardy. The idea that the EU can prevent people in Northern Ireland having equal access to vital medicines as is available in the rest of the UK, is utterly reprehensible and indefensible.
“By citing the Belfast Agreement as the protocol’s justification, whether President Biden or Mr Barnier, they demonstrate the flawed approach on which this entire process has been based.
“The constitutional guarantee which has underpinned political progress in Northern Ireland has been fundamentally undermined by the protocol. Furthermore the political institutions in Northern Ireland will be threatened by a failure to address this.”
Sir Jeffrey added: “Solutions can be found which both respect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market and protect the EU Single Market. Achieving this will require less of the rhetoric and more meaningful action.”
Commenting on the post-Brexit difficulties being experienced by people in Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister said they “can’t go on forever” as ministers consider the prospect of tearing up parts of the protocol agreement with the EU.
However, Mr Johnson said insisted the UK is not “trying to stoke” the problems ahead of a meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House on Tuesday.
Proud of his Irish heritage, Mr Biden has repeatedly warned the UK Government not to damage the peace process amid continuing issues over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Brexit minister Lord Frost has argued that the threshold of triggering Article 16 of the protocol, which would effectively tear up parts of the deal he negotiated, has been met.
So far the Government has resisted taking what amounts to a nuclear option, but Mr Johnson was asked if he could make the move in the days after meeting the US president.
“I hope everybody knows this isn’t something that the UK Government is trying to stoke up for our own political purposes,” he told reporters travelling with him to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
“On the contrary, we want to fix this, we want common sense. We want no barriers in the UK for trading in our country and it’s crazy at the moment that we’ve got the protocol being enforced or being used in the way that it is.
“I don’t believe it’s sensible, 20% of all checks in the whole of the perimeter of the EU are now done in Northern Ireland.
“So we do need to sort it out, we need to sort it out fast,” Mr Johnson added.
He said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had come to the UK last week to “see if he could mediate on the issue”.
“We seek a solution, but it has to be one that allows the free movement of goods between all parts of our country,” Mr Johnson said.
“So to answer your question, the current situation can’t go on forever.”
The protocol was designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.
But the UK wants to rewrite it because of trade barriers it has created for goods crossing the Irish Sea from Britain.
But Brussels has rejected the calls, leading to a sort of stand-off where post-Brexit grace periods on goods have repeatedly been extended in order to prevent further shortages.