Minister: UK stands ready to reform seriously unbalanced NI Protocol

The EU must work with the UK to ease burdens on Northern Ireland rather than “prioritise” the single market, a senior minister has warned.

The Cabinet Office’s Penny Mordaunt also told MPs a “seriously unbalanced” situation is developing in how the Northern Ireland Protocol is operating.

She added the UK is “ready” to develop a new approach on implementing post-Brexit trading arrangements and will bring forward its proposals shortly.

MPs went on to approve a lengthy Commons motion that stated “flexibility” in the application of the Protocol is “in the mutual interests” of both sides.

Coronavirus
Penny Mordaunt (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Protocol is aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland but has created a series of economic barriers on Irish Sea trade.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Mordaunt criticised the EU’s approach to trading arrangements for Northern Ireland and said issues included “critical medicines being at risk of being discontinued” and companies having “given up” delivering.

She said: “We must respond to people’s concerns and that means the EU working with us to ease the burdens on Northern Ireland, not prioritising the single market.”

Ms Mordaunt added: “A seriously unbalanced situation is developing in the way the Protocol is operating. The Protocol can only be sustained for as long as it retains support in Northern Ireland and therefore making it work, you’d think, in everyone’s interest.

“We need to focus on those shared and stated principles and common ambitions for prosperity and peace.”

Ms Mordaunt added: “As we now need to think creatively, we have to find a new balance.

“We need an approach to implementation that respects the delicate balance between the interests of all communities in Northern Ireland and the economic and cultural links, east and west as well as north and south, and that is the thrust of the motion we’ve been debating.

“The Government is ready to do this and colleagues will not have long to wait.”

Ms Mordaunt said MPs had demonstrated there is “overwhelming” support for such an ambition.

Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex), who secured the debate, added: “What everyone has to accept is the Protocol is bad for the peace process in Northern Ireland and it must change or be changed.”

Northern Ireland troubles
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

Earlier, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson urged Westminster to honour seven “promises” in a bid to “restore” Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.

He set out seven tests for the new arrangements, including that they fulfil commitments in the Acts of Union 1800 as it “created the United Kingdom for the people I represent” and entitles everyone to the same privileges – including on trade.

The MP for Lagan Valley said future arrangements must “avoid any diversion of trade”, adding: “It is simply unacceptable that businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland are told that they must purchase certain goods from the EU and not from Great Britain.”

Another demand was there should be “no border in the Irish Sea” between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with Sir Jeffrey adding: “Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market must be fully restored.”

Conservative former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson said: “I’m detecting real concern and a sense of bewilderment in Northern Ireland… is turning to anger and I think that is justified.”

But Labour’s Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) warned of an “erosion of trust”.

He said: “It’s a real tragedy that the erosion of trust has been built I think on political advantage in terms of domestic politics by our Prime Minister. He’s got to turn away from that because that is so, so dangerous.

“The threat to the Good Friday Agreement doesn’t come through the Protocol, it comes through the drip, drip erosion of trust in governance in the UK by the people of Northern Ireland.”

Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith called for the Protocol to be replaced with a system of “mutual enforcement”.

He said: “We now have a situation where there are now two-and-a-half times more checks at the border in Northern Ireland than there are in Rotterdam.

“Northern Ireland represents 0.5% of the total population across the EU, it is now 20% of the EU’s custom checks and it has more checks than France in total. This is quite ludicrous and an utter disaster.”