Protocol proposals ‘fall short of what is needed’, DUP tells European Commission

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DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has told European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic that proposed changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol “fall short of what is needed”.

Sir Jeffrey was speaking after a virtual meeting with Mr Sefcovic on Thursday.

It followed the release of the EU’s plan to alter the protocol by reducing post-Brexit checks on goods and medicines arriving into Northern Ireland from Britain.

The protocol, which was agreed by the EU and UK to maintain a free-flowing land border on the island of Ireland, has created a series of economic barriers on the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Unionists oppose the protocol, which they believe has driven a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Speaking after his meeting with Mr Sefcovic, Sir Jeffrey said: “We had a useful and honest discussion. I welcomed the change of heart in Brussels with the decision to renegotiate.

Brexit
European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic (Brian Lawless/PA)

“For so long we were told the protocol could not be reopened but the persistent pressing of our case has paid dividends.

“I also explained why the proposals fall short of what is needed.

“These negotiations must not be a missed opportunity. There is a window to get this right. To get a deal which can allow Northern Ireland to, once again, get moving forward.”

Sir Jeffrey added: “Short-term fixes will not solve the problems that have beset the United Kingdom internal market.

“Removing some checks today does not solve the divergence problems of tomorrow. State aid and VAT arrangements if left unaltered will be detrimental to Northern Ireland’s long-term prospects.

“We need a sustainable solution which removes the Irish Sea border and restores our place within the United Kingdom.”

Sinn Fein has welcomed the new proposals from the EU and is seeking a recall of the Northern Ireland Assembly to demonstrate support for the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The party’s vice president Michelle O’Neill said she had had a “positive discussion” with Mr Sefcovic on the latest proposals from the EU.

She said she welcomed “his intention to move at pace in the negotiations in the coming weeks and also his commitment to stay engaged with all stakeholders here”.

“I met with Maros Sefcovic to reiterate our support for the protocol and the EU’s practical proposals to ensure it works more smoothly for local businesses,” she said.

“The protocol recognises the special status of this island by preventing a hard border, safeguarding jobs and the all-Ireland economy and protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

“It is supported by the majority of political parties and MLAs in the Assembly.

“It is time for the British government to put an end to the bluster and to engage constructively with the process of trying to find solutions to the practical issues that need to be addressed.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he had also had “useful” dialogue with Mr Sefcovic, and called on Sir Jeffrey to withdraw the threat he made last month to remove his ministers from the Stormont Executive over the protocol.

“There will now be a period of intense negotiation,” he said.

“That should be a constructive and relentlessly positive engagement aimed at securing a resolution.

“In the spirit of seeking accommodation, Jeffrey Donaldson should now withdraw his threat to collapse devolved government in Northern Ireland.

“Unionism has achieved its goals, there is no further price to be extracted. Continuing to make undeliverable demands around the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is a hiding to nothing.”

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said he put his concerns about the EU proposals directly to Mr Sefcovic.

“The issues caused by the protocol need to be fixed in a permanent and lasting way because until we do, we won’t be able to get to grips with the soaring cost of living, and political energy isn’t being focused on helping frontline services like the NHS,” he said.

“However, we are at the start of a period of negotiation and I hope that those negotiations will result in a deal that produces a solution which delivers better for all the people of Northern Ireland, protects the Belfast Agreement and doesn’t undermine Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.

“Northern Ireland deserves better.”

Meanwhile a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) took place on Thursday, at which a £1 billion peace funding package for Northern Ireland was approved.

The DUP has been boycotting north-south meetings in protest at the protocol.

However First Minister Paul Givan said he agreed to the agenda of Thursday’s meeting, in line with his party’s position which allows for meetings on health issues.

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