Business leaders say UK and EU must reach ‘urgent agreement’ over NI Protocol

·3-min read

Business and retail leaders have said there is an “urgent need” for an agreed solution between the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

On Wednesday, the UK’s Brexit Minister Lord Frost called for “significant” changes to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements, but has held back from tearing up parts of the deal.

He warned the “purist” way the Northern Ireland protocol was being implemented was causing economic and societal damage and said there should be a “standstill” period maintaining existing grace periods allowing the flow of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

But the European Union quickly hit back, warning the UK it will not renegotiate the deal.

The protocol was put in place to ensure there would be no hard border with Ireland, but it has instead effectively placed a trade barrier in the Irish Sea.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said the two sides needed to reach agreement.

He added: “While it is good to see that the UK Government has listened to the problems facing retailers, any solution that is not agreed by both sides cannot provide the certainty and stability that retailers and NI consumers need.

“Any solution needs to be agreed with EU, as without this, there can be no stability.

“This could also have severe consequences for consumers across the UK, if sanctions, such as tariffs, are brought in under the provisions of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement.”

Mr Connolly said: “Northern Ireland is in a unique situation which requires a unique solution that is agreed by both the UK and EU. There is a real urgency now to deliver an agreed solution that works for consumers.

Brexit minister Lord Frost making a statement to members of the House of Lords in London on the government’s approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol (PA)

“It is hugely difficult for businesses to plan for the future or invest if there is no stability.

“Retailers need to know by August what the agreed arrangements from October will be to allow retailers to make key decisions on sourcing and availability of products and so avoid choice and affordability problems for NI households.”

The head of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Northern Ireland urged the UK and EU to engage urgently in discussions to deliver outcomes.

Roger Pollen said: “Since the Northern Ireland Protocol has been in force, we have been highlighting to government and the EU the issues its operation has been raising for our members. While some businesses undoubtedly welcome the protection the protocol provides, others find it has created new bureaucracy, increased costs and impacted supply chains.

“The statement and Command Paper set out by the UK Government is one side’s response to address these issues, which will be subject to discussions with the EU. Lord Frost has said ‘we cannot go on as we are’. FSB NI would agree with those sentiments, so we also welcome the EU’s offer that it is ready to find ‘creative solutions’.”

Mr Pollen added: “Solutions are available if the political will is there. With grace periods due to expire at the end of September, and small businesses struggling with customs complexity on a daily basis, there is urgent need for discussions to deliver outcomes.

“We call once again on both sides to deliver on the commitment to which they signed up – that the protocol should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities.”