Assurances on Northern Ireland’s inclusion in future UK trade deals must be secured before the Assembly can vote on the Government’s proposed policy framework, a minister has said.
Stormont economy minister Diane Dodds told MLAs that she would not bring the Government’s Trade Bill before the House until such guarantees are obtained.
Mrs Dodds said International Trade minister of state Greg Hands had been unable to provide legislative assurances that Northern Ireland would be a “full participant” in future trade deals post-Brexit.
The Trade Bill, which will create a framework for the UK’s trade policy once the transition period is over, is making its way through Parliament.
As part of that process, the devolved parliaments in the UK will be asked to give legislative consent to be covered by the terms of the new laws.
Mrs Dodds said she would not bring a legislative consent motion to the Assembly until changes were made.
It comes amid continued uncertainty about trading arrangements involving Northern Ireland under the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol contained in the Withdrawal Agreement.
The protocol will see the region continue to follow single market rules for goods and administer the EU’s customs code at its ports.
Mrs Dodds said the Government needed to provide clarity that the region could still fully participate in UK-wide trade deals with third countries.
The DUP minister said her party was not prepared to simply follow London’s lead on Brexit issues.
“This is challenging London and making sure that London understands the needs of businesses and families in Northern Ireland,” she said.
“I also want to take the opportunity to indicate to the House today that as the minister responsible for issues in relation to international trade I will be writing to executive colleagues this week to make them aware that, at this stage, I will not be seeking to bring forward a motion to seek legislative consent in the Northern Ireland Assembly for the Trade Bill, which is currently making its passage through Parliament.
“It is absolutely essential that Northern Ireland is able to be a full participant in future UK trade deals. So far the Minister for International Trade has been unable to provide the necessary legislative assurance that this will be the case and there are still too many uncertainties around the implications for internal UK trade.”
Mrs Dodds was speaking during an Assembly debate on post-Brexit preparedness.
“Northern Ireland’s place is within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland needs to be able to benefit fully from UK trade deals and not just be a named participant in those UK trade deals,” she added.
“That is vitally important for Northern Ireland businesses, for Northern Ireland families, jobs and prosperity here in Northern Ireland.”
The minister later told a Stormont press conference: “I have expressed my concern on this issue, Northern Ireland if it has to operate under the protocol, needs to know that it will be not just a named participant in those trade deals, but that Northern Ireland companies will be actively able to trade under the protocol and the terms of those future trade deals.
“That’s important for global Britain, it’s important for global Northern Ireland.”