The four main unionist parties in Northern Ireland have formed an alliance to scrap the Irish protocol, agreed by the EU and the UK to maintain a smooth flow of goods on the island, as the UK government steps up its attempts to renegotiate it.
In a joint statement issued on Tuesday (28 September), the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist party, the Traditional Unionist Voice, and the Progressive Unionist party stated that “our unalterable position that the protocol must be rejected and replaced by arrangements which fully respect Northern Ireland’s position as a constituent and integral part of the United Kingdom.”
“Unionism stands united in opposing the protocol. The Irish Sea border must go,” said Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest governing party in the province, in a video accompanying the statement.
Under the protocol, which was negotiated and agreed by the UK and EU as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland is considered to be part of the single market for goods to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Opposed by unionist parties, who consider themselves British, throughout the negotiating process, the protocol effectively carves Northern Ireland out of the UK’s own single market.
Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised that businesses trading to and from Northern Ireland would not face additional bureaucracy and paperwork, the reality has seen major supply chain delays and empty shelves in shops.
The unionist parties stated that “the huge disruption of trade in the supply of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland has caused unnecessary supply chain disruption and unacceptable and unsustainable levels of bureaucracy and barriers to trade within our own nation.
“The resulting diversion and reorientation of trade is destructive of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom and will result in an economic realignment which is unacceptable,” they said.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s government said the problems are with the implementation rather than the text of the protocol.
In a bid to ease the burden on businesses, UK ministers have repeatedly extended the grace periods during which products crossing from Britain to Northern Ireland will not be checked, prompting the EU to threaten legal action for breaching the protocol’s terms.
The EU is expected to table fresh proposals to address UK demands for a substantial rewrite of the protocol.
The devolved Northern Ireland government has estimated that between January and March, about 20% of all the EU’s customs checks were being conducted on products entering Northern Ireland, even though the province’s population totals just 0.5% of the EU as a whole.
At least 200 companies in Great Britain are no longer servicing the Northern Ireland market. And a significant number of medicines are also at risk of discontinuation.
Northern Ireland’s leading supermarkets have said that without action there would be ‘significant disruption to supply and an increase in cost for Northern Ireland consumers’ in the autumn.
Almost a third of businesses in the NI Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Economic Survey reported they are finding new trading arrangements difficult to deal with and 15% are finding them ‘very challenging’.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]