Next week the church will be outlining its concerns and calling on both the EU and UK government to engage constructively to address all the issues of concern to different sections of the community regarding the Protocol. Specific resolutions will be tabled to enable the church’s collective elders to affirm and express clear position on the issues.
Rev Gribben was speaking as the UK government comes under intense criticism for publishing draft legislation to unilaterally amend what the unionist political parties see as major failings in the Protocol.
He said that the effects of the Protocol “were either not envisaged or were underplayed by those on both sides who signed [it]”.
“And the Protocol is not working. There is a lack of confidence in the unionist community. There is a lack of buying-in to some of the principles of how we are governed.
“It is about trade, yes, but it is about more than trade. The protocol has unbalanced the delicate settlement that is the Good Friday Agreement, the Belfast Agreement.”
He said that the north-south elements of the GFA are “important” and that “there should be nothing that hinders that growing harmony on this island as good neighbours”.
But he added the east-west aspect of the agreement between Northern Ireland and GB “is also important”.
“So the protocol should be dealt with. Our view is that it is best done by negotiation.
“We also feel that Europe has not moved enough.” He said that the EU needs to review the mandate given to its negotiators so that “some of the real issues can be talked about and dealt with” in talks. “And the British government in good faith must then go into those negotiations.”
Asked if the church opposed unilateral action by the UK government, he replied: “No, as a church we haven’t said that. We have said that negotiation is the best way forward and should be pursued.”
He added that the UK government feels that the mandate given to EU negotiators “is not wide enough to deal with some of the issues” and that when that is addressed “the British government has to be serious about engaging”.
“If negotiations cannot resolve the issues, he said, “the British government has a responsibility to attempt to resolve the issues in other ways. They need to listen to all voices in Northern Ireland in so doing. The detail of the protocol bill is not something we are saying we are content with or happy with - or indeed unhappy with. We haven’t responded to that yet - but it should be a last resort if negotiations cannot resolve the problems.”
The church has 204,000 members in 530 congregations across the island.