Sir Jeffrey Donaldson: The EU must admit that the NI Protocol has failed
Seven months on from its implementation, the protocol continues to weaken Northern Ireland’s economic and constitutional position within the United Kingdom.
The Irish Sea border has added significant cost and complexity to trade with Great Britain, disrupting established supply chains and resulting in reduced choice for local consumers.
Predictably, this has led to many businesses deciding it is simply not worth the risk doing business in the Northern Ireland market. Consequently, there is a growing problem of East-West trade being diverted to the Republic of Ireland and other markets.
Extensions to grace periods offer only temporary relief and store up problems for another day. They do not address the democratic deficit at the heart of the protocol, nor can they give businesses the longer-term certainty on which to plan.
In the past three months alone, the EU has made 600 pieces of legislation which impact on Northern Ireland businesses. This demonstrates that we can’t simply hit the pause button on the protocol. There needs to be complete reboot of relationships and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market must be restored in full.
Last week I outlined seven tests the DUP will apply to any future proposals that are brought forward to deal with the protocol. These include ensuring any new arrangements:
1. Fulfil Article 6 of the Articles of Union which requires that everyone in the United Kingdom is entitled to the same privileges;
2. Avoid any diversion of trade;
3. Do not constitute a border in the Irish Sea;
4. Give the people of Northern Ireland a say in the making of the laws which govern them;
5. Result in “no checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain or from Great Britain to Northern Ireland”;
6. Ensure no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom unless agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly;
7. Preserve the letter and spirit of Northern Ireland’s constitutional guarantee requiring the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland for any diminution in its status as part of the United Kingdom.
These tests are grounded on the legitimate concerns of local communities and previous broken promises by the UK and EU. It is entirely reasonable to expect that they can be met through pragmatic and permanent solutions.
There is an urgent need for [European Commission vice president] Maros Sefcovic to inject a sense of realism into the EU’s approach to the protocol. The rising social and political instability sustained by these arrangements cannot be simply ignored or wished away.
My message to Mr Sefcovic today will be simple. It is time for the European Commission to recognise that the protocol has failed. They need to come back to the table with a willingness to renegotiate an outcome which respects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.
If Brussels is not prepared to renegotiate a sensible deal, then Her Majesty’s Government must step in and take all steps necessary to protect this part of the United Kingdom.
There is not a single elected representative in any unionist party that supports the protocol. If Brussels is genuine about protecting the Belfast Agreement and the basis of stable devolved government, it must recognise that this can only be secured through solutions that respect the delicate balance of community relations and the role of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Lord Frost has repeatedly highlighted that the Northern Ireland Protocol in its present form is unsustainable and should go. It is high time the EU displayed a similar level of self-awareness, accepted responsibility for these deeply divisive, disruptive, and destabilising arrangements and committed to finding a permanent and consensual alternative. That is the message I will delivering today.
• Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is leader of the DUP