Foster – Protocol is not going to work

Michael McHugh, PA
·3-min read

More rigorous implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol is not going to work, Stormont’s First Minister said.

Consensus necessary to secure progress is lacking, Arlene Foster added.

The DUP leader is campaigning to scrap the post-Brexit trade agreement.

She said Northern Ireland should not be used as a political football, and added the Prime Minister “needs to step up” to deal with the problems arising for the country.

She said: “I am just sorry that the EU have decided…the answer to the difficulties is more protocol and more rigorous implementation.

“I think that is not going to work.”

Her party has vowed to frustrate implementation of the protocol’s provisions at Stormont and Westminster.

It did not attend a committee meeting of public representatives on matters involving the Republic of Ireland this week.

Mrs Foster said there was “very little time” to deal with protocol problems.

The grace periods for soft-touch implementation of some EU measures expires on April 1, and the First Minister described that as a “cliff edge”.

“We all know in Northern Ireland that relationships are balanced and if we are to get progress on these issues there has to be consensus and there simply is not consensus in Northern Ireland.”

The 1998 Belfast Agreement includes a range of north/south and east/west cooperation measures.

Mrs Foster said: “That East/West dimension of the Belfast Agreement has been damaged.”

She said the EU needed to dial back on its rhetoric.

Unionists have accused the bloc of not listening to those flagging up concerns about post-Brexit Irish Sea trading arrangements.

The European Commission has called on the UK Government to take urgent action to fully and faithfully implement the protocol.

Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic was responding to a request from Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to extend grace periods that currently limit the bureaucracy associated with the protocol.

Mr Sefcovic’s written reply to Mr Gove was published ahead of a meeting between the two senior politicians on Thursday to discuss problems with the protocol, which requires regulatory and customs checks processes on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The protocol has caused some disruption to trade since it came into force, with various grace periods in operation, on January 1.

Sinn Fein Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy said some of the problems with post-Brexit trade were caused by companies in Great Britain being ill-prepared for the new arrangements.

He added: “I think the root cause of all of this is the decision to leave the EU.”

He said they needed to work their way through complexities caused by the divorce.

He added: “We also need to get behind what issues are relating to the protocol and what issues are relating to lack of preparedness.

“There are issues to be worked through.”

Unionists in Northern Ireland are deeply concerned about the arrangements, insisting they have driven an economic wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

They have called on the UK to trigger a mechanism within the protocol – Article 16 – that enables the Government to unilaterally suspend aspects it deems are causing economic, societal or environmental problems.

Unionist demands for Article 16 have intensified since the EU briefly triggered the mechanism itself, though swiftly backtracked on the move, amid its efforts to restrict the export of Covid vaccines out of the bloc.