Update the Northern Ireland protocol

Update the Northern Ireland protocol

TDUK would welcome serious approach to solving trading issues with NI, but is the proposal on ditching the NI protocol really going to achieve that?

After a minor absence, Brexit was back on the parliamentary and media agenda this week as MPs voted on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

This bill aims to change the part of the 2019 deal that introduced post-Brexit checks on goods sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The Government argue this can be achieved by creating a distinction between goods based on their final location.

In what they coin as a ‘green’ and ‘red’ lane approach, the new system would mean that goods intended solely for Northern Ireland would no longer require customs checks upon entry. Goods intended for the Republic of Ireland, however, would continue to be checked at Northern Irish ports.

Though the process is likely to take months, the bill passed its second reading by 74 votes on Tuesday suggesting the Government is likely to succeed in being approved by the UK Parliament. As with any international agreement though, it will require the approval of international partners before being put into practice.

The bill is far from perfect, however, it does look for some kind of solution to a situation in Northern Ireland that has made trade from Great Britain very difficult.

Putting a customs border in the Irish Sea has been a bureaucratic nightmare for many members, with significantly more paperwork and labour required to keep goods moving than ever before.

Smaller businesses are taking the brunt of this, with the high cost of shipments exacerbating already high operational costs. In some cases, members have decided to set up Irish-listed companies to help alleviate some of these issues.

For these reasons, we would welcome any legislation that genuinely helps the free movement of goods between GB and Northern Ireland.

However, with this current Government, complex issues are never plain sailing. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has taken a rather confrontational approach to the EU and the bill has been widely criticised for breaking an internationally recognised treaty, casting doubt on whether it could ever be implemented in practice.

If this is going to be resolved for the benefit of all, the Government needs to approach the issue in a sensible manner and in a way that prioritises business reality over political rhetoric. There will be many pointing out that, economically, NI has been outperforming the rest of the country despite the protocol so, why bother to change?

If we are to see the situation improve for our GB members trading with NI, the Government needs to work cooperatively with all partners, including the EU, and do so within international law, to ensure the Northern Ireland solution is practical and pragmatic, not just a political football for scoring an endless series of own goals.

More details on the bill can be read here. We will keep members updated on the progress of the bill as it develops.