Government must do more to minimise Brexit disruption to Northern Ireland-Britain supply chain
Some haulers' have been stranded because their goods do not have the correct paperwork, incurring thousands of pounds in extra cost. This is as a far cry from the assurances of unfettered access we were promised.
Current disruption facing trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland threatens not just prosperity in Northern Ireland but also the success of the United Kingdom internal market.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was the result of a calculated decision to elevate erroneous predictions of violence on the Irish border above the practical concerns of businesses and households in Northern Ireland.
Brexit did not cause these problems per se. Indeed, it is bizarre for some parties in Northern Ireland to suggest that the referendum result – arguably the greatest single act of democratic expression for a generation – made these undemocratic and costly barriers inevitable.
In reality when Mrs May signed up in principle to backstop arrangements which by her previous admission ‘no UK prime minister could ever agree to’ she set the tone for future administrations to concede ground and gave succor to EU negotiators who viewed Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip.
The eventual decision by the government to persist with the Protocol without the prior consent of the devolved Assembly, or the support of any shade of unionism in Northern Ireland, has ultimately created new divisions which will fester if not healed.
In the meantime, our primary focus must be on identifying workable and sustainable solutions to the disruption facing Great Britain to Northern Ireland supply chains. The Prime Minister has helpfully said the government will be willing to invoke Article 16 of the Protocol to take unilateral action where serious diversion of trade or societal difficulties persists. However, businesses are rightly seeking practical answers now, not at a hypothetical point in the future.
We have heard instances of fresh fruit and vegetables being discarded, rotting by the time they reach the shelves
Some haulers' have been stranded at ports in Great Britain because their goods do not have the correct paperwork, incurring thousands of pounds in extra cost. Others have fell foul of even more restrictive rules on groupage loads. Businesses in Great Britain have complained of little to no help from HMRC in preparing for the new requirements.
We have heard instances of fresh fruit and vegetables being discarded, rotting by the time they reach the shelves, and major retailers like M&S have withdrawn entire product ranges because of the delays. There are prospective 25% tariffs on steel imports and ongoing disruption to the supply of raw materials to some manufacturing businesses.
The situation on parcels is also bleak, with many retailers simply not servicing the Northern Ireland market in the absence of longer-term guarantees. Problems have even extended into the personal sphere with new restrictions on the movement of pets, including guide dogs, and some home movers have been pulled aside at Cairnryan moving personal belongings back to Northern Ireland. This is as a far cry from the assurances of unfettered access promised by the Government.
We are pleased that agreement has been reached with the Treasury to reinstate the VAT margin scheme for cars imported and resold by second-hand dealers in Northern Ireland. However, there is more to do and much more that we need to achieve if disruption is to be minimised.
As Northern Ireland enters its centenary year, we are reminded that our region of the United Kingdom has often experienced periods of great upheaval and challenge. The imposition of the Northern Ireland Protocol brings difficulty and uncertainty, but I am confident it can be addressed and overcome.
For our part the Democratic Unionist Party will continue to work alongside the government to promote the economic wellbeing of Northern Ireland, identify practical solutions and promote our place as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
Jeffrey Donaldson is the DUP MP for Lagan Valley and shadow DUP spokesperson for business.