Thank you for contacting me about the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Government will always work in the best interests of Northern Ireland, making the changes necessary to fix parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, to restore stability and ensure the delicate balance of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is protected.
To this end, the Government has introduced the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which will address the practical problems the Protocol has created in Northern Ireland in four key areas: burdensome customs processes; inflexible regulation; tax and spend discrepancies; and democratic governance issues. These problems include disruption and diversion of trade and significant costs and bureaucracy for business. They are undermining all three strands of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and have led to the collapse of the power-sharing arrangements at Stormont. The UK Government is committed to seeing these institutions back up and running so that they can deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.
This Bill is a reasonable and practical solution to these problems which is designed to protect all three strands of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, including North-South cooperation, and support stability and power-sharing in Northern Ireland. It will end the untenable situation where people in Northern Ireland are treated differently to the rest of the United Kingdom, and protect the supremacy of our courts and our territorial integrity. It will also safeguard the EU Single Market and protect the free flow of North-South trade, ensuring there continues to be no hard border on the island of Ireland.
The Government has set out how this Bill is consistent with international law. You can read further information regarding this here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/northern-ireland-protocol-bill-uk-government-legal-position/northern-ireland-protocol-bill-uk-government-legal-position
The UK has engaged in 18 months of negotiations with the EU on these issues and the Government’s preference remains for a negotiated solution to fix these problems. However, the EU continues to insist that they will not change their position, even though their proposals do not solve the problems and in many cases would actually make them worse.
In the intensive discussions between October and March, the negotiating team held more than 300 hours of official and ministerial discussions and spent hundreds more examining the EU’s proposals in detail.
However, it has become clear the EU proposals don’t address the core problems created by the Protocol. They would be worse than the status quo, requiring more paperwork and checks than today. The EU has said they will not allow changes to the Protocol within its current negotiating mandate.
The UK has made clear and comprehensive proposals which would deliver sustainability, address the full range of issues raised by the Protocol and restore the balance of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. These proposals would:
- establish new “green channel” arrangements for goods staying in the UK – fixing the burdens and bureaucracy caused by the application of EU customs and SPS (agri-food) rules to all goods at present
- establish a new “dual regulatory” model to provide flexibility to choose between UK or EU rules – removing barriers to trade and managing risks of future divergence between UK and EU rules
- ensure the Government can set UK-wide policies on subsidy control and VAT – overcoming constraints that have meant NI has not benefited from the same support as other parts of the UK
- deal with the Protocol’s unequal governance, removing the role of the European Court of Justice in dispute settlement and providing the means for UK authorities and courts to set out the arrangements which apply in Northern Ireland.
The Government has also been clear that there are elements of the Protocol which are operating well and which should be preserved – such as on the Common Travel Area and North-South Cooperation.
The legislation being brought forward will enable the sustainable operation of the Protocol in line with these proposals. In parallel, the UK will continue to seek to achieve the same objectives through a negotiated settlement. In all scenarios, the Government is committed to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, and to respecting the EU’s legitimate interest to see its Single Market protected.
As I understand it, the Bill contains provisions for it to be replaced by a negotiated settlement, if one is agreed with the EU.
Ministers believe that the serious situation in Northern Ireland means they cannot afford to delay. It is the duty of the Government of the United Kingdom to take the necessary steps to preserve stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland, and the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will support that.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP