UK-EU trading regime an ‘unmitigated disaster’ for Northern Ireland, MP warns

The new UK-EU trading regime is an “unmitigated disaster” for Northern Ireland, an MP has warned.

The Northern Ireland Protocol between the EU and UK is designed to reduce friction on trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland following a divorce deal avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The country is following the rules of the EU single market to avoid a hard Irish border and has shifted checks on food standards to Irish Sea ports. Customs declarations are also required in many cases on products coming in.

Following an economic update from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, DUP MP Ian Paisley (North Antrim) told the Commons: “Northern Ireland is facing a double-whammy. First of all we are coping with the economic consequences of Covid – we thank the Chancellor for the help with that.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak

“But at the same time we’re also trying to deal with a protocol that is crippling businesses in Northern Ireland. South of the border the Irish revenue authorities have said that all companies can circumvent customs to deal with this problem, while on our side of the border HMRC is increasing the red tape.

“This protocol is an unmitigated disaster. PPE equipment can no longer get into Northern Ireland. Foodstuffs can’t get into Northern Ireland. Marks & Spencer have produced a list of 400 goods that they won’t bring into Northern Ireland.

“We now must invoke Article 16 and I would encourage the Chancellor to do that and I’m sure Scot Nats are delighted they don’t have a protocol now.”

Responding, Mr Sunak said: “I know that he and other colleagues are speaking to my right honourable friend (Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove) about individual issues and I will be sure to follow-up with him later today.

“We funded with £200 million a Trader Support Service which is helping businesses in Northern Ireland adjust to the new arrangements and I think 25,000 at last count had signed up, and I know the response has been pretty good but there’s always more we can do.”

The export of fish and seafood has been “brought to a grinding halt” by new trade rules, Liberal Democrat former minister Alistair Carmichael said.

Depleted shelves in a Marks and Spencer store in Belfast
Depleted shelves in a Marks and Spencer store in Belfast

The Orkney and Shetland MP told the Commons: “The Chancellor’s assertion that the Prime Minister’s trade deal means that businesses can now start to do things differently and better will have been heard with total incredulity by anyone whose business involves the export of seafood.

“The new procedures for export are a bureaucratic mess that has brought export trade to a grinding halt. One local fish trader told me this morning that a single consignment now has to go with no fewer than 17 different attachments and another told me on Friday that he had lost £50,000 on a single consignment that he had been unable to export.”

Responding, Mr Sunak said: “What this deal provides is ensuring all those businesses that he mentioned have tariff-free access to European markets otherwise there would have been significant tariffs on those exports.

“He is right there are changes to our trading relationship. That has always been the case and both the Prime Minister and the Government have been clear about that.

“I know my right honourable friend (Mr Gove) is working through individual issues as we look over time to streamline and improve all our processes and he will also know that we have invested a huge amount of resource in both the IT systems at Defra but also in providing support for those businesses who need help to fill out various customs forms and meet new procedures.”

SNP MP Patrick Grady said musicians were struggling because of new post-Brexit visa rules.

He added: “Musicians and performers in Glasgow North have already been excluded very often from his support packages and they’ll find it difficult to look towards a brighter future when at the end of the year the Government failed to negotiate visa-free touring for them across the United Kingdom.

“Many of us have been warning that Brexit would simply compound the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and this kind of decision seems to be proving the point, doesn’t it?”

Mr Sunak replied: “We’ve provided significant support to our cultural industries and I think it’s right that we highlight the contribution they make both to our society but also to our economy.

“I struggle to find any other countries who have matched the £1.5 billion of support we have provided which has now gone out to over 3,000 different cultural institutions.”