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The new Northern Ireland deal falls far short of what’s needed

(Alamy)

Baroness Hoey

Baroness Hoey

4 min read

After two years in mothballs, the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive has been trumpeted by many as a great achievement.

Despite both first and deputy first ministers having equal powers, a Republican First Minister was naturally going to be newsworthy. But does the Command Paper outlining the deal agreed last month by the DUP stand up to scrutiny? 

There are some welcome reassuring words on Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom and new east-west bodies being established, but it falls far short on change to the fundamental issue that brought Stormont down – the creation of an Irish sea border. 

Our equal citizenship as British citizens is being eroded

The DUP was under huge pressure from the Northern Ireland Office and the Irish government to return to the executive. The Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris had been ferocious in his willingness to use money as a bribe, admitting that the striking public sector workers were entitled to an increase but refusing to release funds without an executive. 

Jeffrey Donaldson learnt lessons from the launch of the Windsor Framework. In seeking support of his party he went on the attack, ignoring how little change there was and exaggerating to the point of actual mistruths. He and Heaton-Harris continue to state that the Irish Sea border is no more and that checks on British goods coming into Northern Ireland (NI) and staying in NI will be removed as the green lane has been replaced by a UK internal market system. However this rests on the assumption that nearly all goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain (GB) would be classified as “not at risk” of entering the European Union (EU). The statement that only sensitive items – like weapons or exotic animals – would be subject to EU checks and documentation has never been accepted by Brussels.

The claim is that businesses would have to provide only “commercial information” rather than “customs information” to trade with NI, but that still means paperwork and extra costs –  unlike trading between London and Glasgow.

The red lane is a full-frontier border customs entry under the Customs Declaration Service. The manufacturer and processors must prove that the goods  are “not at risk” of moving into the EU (which is generally impossible at time of entry).

For manufacturers, all goods imported from GB are red lane even when only a very small proportion could be destined, after processing, to end up in the EU. EU customs duties will apply and are higher than UK customs duties. (A mechanism to claim back the difference between EU and UK duties exists but the cost is generally greater than the benefit.)

The red lane is subject to compliance with the “rules of origin”.  Components that are in free circulation in GB will be required to prove (as required) that they are of UK origin when entering NI. Origin is not determined by where something is purchased. Determining origin can be a prohibitively expensive exercise for business.

Fundamentally nothing has changed for manufacturers or processors – they can’t use  the “green lane”. Even if a manufacturer does not sell into the EU, it is impossible currently to prove that their products are not “at risk”. Costs will rise making them less competitive than in GB.

Despite the newly restored executive there will be continued opposition to the protocol / framework. Each day some new rule is highlighted.

We in Northern Ireland, despite having the same ballot paper in the referendum, have been left under EU diktat and court. Our equal citizenship as British citizens is being eroded and – whatever the spin from a Conservative and Unionist Party – divergence is already happening. Broken promises will be remembered and principles still matter. Ultimately, as the saying goes, “the truth will find you out”. 

 

Baroness Hoey, non-affiliated peer

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Read the most recent article written by Baroness Hoey - Tribute to Frank Field – by Kate Hoey

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