Stormont minister urges common sense solution to problem with protocol

Michael McHugh, PA
·3-min read

A Stormont minister has urged the EU to agree a common sense solution to problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Gordon Lyons said the bloc needed to show greater flexibility.

Hauliers and businesses have grappled with complex challenges following Brexit which have emptied supermarket shelves and left lorries stranded in Great Britain without loads.

The Democratic Unionist Executive Office junior minister said: “There needs to be conversations with the EU about the difficulty of implementing this and the problems that will come as a result of them being put into place.

“These are not concerns I am making up or pulling out of the air.

Brexit
A three-month light touch regulatory grace period for supermarkets sending goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland finishes on March 31 (Michael McHugh/PA)

“It is what we heard directly from those who will be most affected by them.

“There needs to be common sense when it comes to goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland that have no risk of entering into the EU.

“We need to see an awful lot of flexibility there and we need to see change in the approach.”

Northern Ireland is following EU rules on movements of goods through its ports.

A three-month light touch regulatory grace period for supermarkets sending goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland finishes on March 31.

Mr Lyons told his Executive Office scrutiny committee at the Assembly that arrangements should impact as little as possible on ordinary people, and jobs needed to be protected.

He called for pragmatism and warned the rigorous implementation of the protocol would be to the detriment of people in Northern Ireland.

He said: “If we are concerned about protecting our people, protecting businesses, protecting consumers and consumer choice, then we need to take that approach.”

He said the long-term issues were not simply teething problems.

“There is a huge amount of concern among people in Northern Ireland,” he added.

Sinn Fein junior minister Declan Kearney said they needed to protect supply chains and ultimately shield consumers from price increases arising from the new trading environment.

He said some within the British Government working on the problems were aware of their seriousness but others, more removed, were less so.

He said: “They carried out a very reckless negotiation and are now riding off into the sunset.”

He said those ministers at the coalface were showing an appreciation of the issues.

“My fear is that others within the British Cabinet may simply see this as deal done, job done, let’s move on, paying scant regard to the bits that have to be picked up as a result of withdrawal having been finalised,” he added.

He pointed to a lack of preparedness from businesses in Great Britain.

The ministers envisaged that a solution would be found soon to the problems of mixed loads from Great Britain, known as groupage, picked up at different points and requiring multiple pieces of paperwork and resealing of containers.

Mr Lyons said action needed to be taken before the end of the grace period.