Discussions on NI Protocol ‘at a crossroads’, says Michelle O’Neill

·3-min read

Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister has challenged the UK Government to “honour its commitments” on the Brexit Protocol.

Speaking after a meeting of the joint UK/EU committee on the implementation of the Protocol, Michelle O’Neill said she felt they were at a “crossroads”.

She said progress had been made in some areas during the meeting, including on the supply of medicines from Great Britain, but there was “still a way to go” on other sticking points.

“I think certainly we’re probably at a crossroads point, I think that was certainly the indication from the EU side,” she told a Stormont press conference.

“Certainly there’s a frustration that the British Government have signed up to this agreement, however they have failed to bring forward ways to implement the Protocol in its entirety.”

However, First Minister Arlene Foster, whose party, the DUP, is pressing the UK Government to scrap the Protocol, described the meeting as “hugely predictable from the EU side”.

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“The Withdrawal agreement joint committee mtg today was hugely predictable from EU side – legal purism without any sense of proportionality or levels of risk,” she tweeted.

“Glad @DavidGHFrost set out the issues and possible solutions in detail.”

On the issue of potential restrictions on medicine supplies into Northern Ireland from Great Britain when a grace period ends at the end of 2021, Ms O’Neill said: “We discussed in particular the issue of medicines, which is important that we find a solution there.

“And I think all sides are willing to do so and I’d be hopeful that there will be a solution found there, but there still is more work to be done.”

Ms O’Neill said it was made clear to the UK Government that an agreement with the EU on veterinary standards, even a temporary one, would remove the need for the majority of the new checks.

Demonstrations against the Protocol by Loyalists have been ongoing, with several hundred attending an event in Portadown at the weekend.

The pro-Union community in Northern Ireland oppose the Protocol and the checks on goods arriving into ports as having created a border between the region and the rest of the UK.

The Sinn Fein vice president said she made it clear that not everyone in the Northern Ireland believes the Protocol should be scrapped.

“I took the opportunity at the meeting to address head-on with the EU Commission and indeed with David Frost that the Protocol has afforded opportunity, it does afford protection to the local business community here but it certainly affords opportunity in that we have access to both the British market and the EU market,” she added.

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Meanwhile Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, expressed disappointment at the lack of substantial progress.

He warned the clock is “counting down fast” for Northern Ireland consumers.

“We need immediate solutions to keep goods flowing now and we need a breathing space so that the UK Government and the EU can, in the longer term, find a workable solution that allows NI retailers to continue to give households the choice and affordability they need,” he said.

“This requires pragmatic controls which satisfy the EU’s concerns, recognises the deeply integrated GB-NI supply chains and can be introduced in a workable manner over a sensible time frame.

“The solutions are there. What we need now is the political will on both sides to see them delivered.”