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DUP says EU proposals on NI Protocol 'fall far short of the fundamental change needed'

Sinn Féin welcomed the “far-reaching” EU plans published this evening.

Image: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

THE EU PROPOSALS to address practical difficulties around the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol have been broadly welcomed this evening as political and business leaders look to the next stage of negotiations.

However, the leader of the DUP described the plans as a “welcome acknowledgement that the NI protocol has not worked”.

Jeffery Donaldson described the proposals as the EU’s “starting point” but on first inspection, they would appear to “fall far short of the fundamental change needed”.

The proposals cover agri-food checks, customs, movement of medicines and enhancing stakeholder engagement, but do not offer any concession on a key UK Government demand, the removal of the oversight role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The measures are to bring about an 80% reduction in checks envisaged for retail agri-food products arriving in the region from Great Britain.

Announcing the proposals this evening, EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said he hoped the UK Government would reciprocate the EU’s efforts.

He said: “I really hope that we share the same goal of peace, stability and prosperity on the island of Ireland and I hope that we also share the same goal that the businesses and people of Northern Ireland would benefit enormously from the dual market access.”

Sefcovic said the role of the ECJ was mentioned to him only once during all of his discussions and interactions with people in Northern Ireland over post-Brexit arrangements.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said her party has tabled a recall of the Assembly to “reiterate its support” for the protocol.

She emphasised it is backed by the “majority of political parties and the majority of MLAs” in the Stormont Assembly, adding the recall will allow MLAs to demonstrate their support for it.

‘not a wasted opportunity’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he trusts that the proposals will now be the subject of “serious engagement with the British Government and form the basis of a jointly agreed solution to those challenges”.

“The Commission, acting in good faith, has today invited the UK Government to work with it on these proposals, which it has said are a basis for discussion. I believe that the UK Government should accept that invitation and will engage in the same spirit,” he said.

Likewise welcoming the proposals, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said they are a major effort by the EU to address concerns raised around the protocol, and follow months of hard work and careful listening across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland.

“The Commission’s package respects the fine balance at the heart of the Protocol: protecting the Good Friday agreement, avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland while at the same time protecting EU consumers and the integrity of the EU’s single market,” Coveney said in a statement this evening.

He said that now was the time for the UK Government to “engage constructively on the practical solutions being put forward by the Commission to the issues that matter most to the people of Northern Ireland”.

Donaldson said his party will now take time to study the detail and urged that future discussions are “not a wasted opportunity”.

“The forthcoming negotiations between the UK Government and the European Union present an opportunity to replace the protocol with new arrangements that deal with the present foundational weaknesses, namely that we have a trade border within the United Kingdom flowing from the reality that Northern Ireland follows different laws for goods than the rest of the United Kingdom,” he said.

“It is vital this new round of negotiations does not become another missed opportunity to make fundamental change and to replace the protocol. Short-term fixes will not solve the problems that have beset the United Kingdom internal market.

“These proposals clearly fall a long way short of being the basis of a sustainable solution and are presented within the framework of a protocol that has failed. The proposals in the Government command paper, in our view, are the best direction of travel to start creating sustainable arrangements for Northern Ireland.

“We have a window of opportunity to get this right. The prize for doing so will be great for both sides but most of all for the people of Northern Ireland who can break free from the protocol infecting day-to-day decisions.”

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill challenged the DUP and UK Government to work with the EU on what she described as “far-reaching” proposals.

“I think that demonstrates both in word and deed that the EU side are living up to their commitments that they made to both business and civic leaders as well as political leaders,” she said.

“It’s a good mark of progress, however, it’s up to others now as to whether or not they engage with this process.

“I hope that we can find solutions and that we can find certainty that the business community here desperately are looking for.

I will meet with Maros Sefcovic tomorrow. We will discuss the proposals in more detail but I think this represents progress and I think very much fulfils the commitments that have been made within the protocol to protect the all-island economy, to ensure no hard border on this island and to make sure that we protect the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald the British government now need to engage with the process of finding solutions.

“It is time for the British government to put an end to the bluster and to engage with the process of trying to find solutions to the practical issues that need to be addressed.”

O’Neill was asked by reporters at Stormont whether the proposals from the EU represent a victory for the DUP.

“Brexit is the problem and the protocol is a solution, the protocol remains today, we have always said there needed to be flexibility inbuilt into that protocol to make it work, that was what Maros Sefcovic committed to when he met business and civic leaders here back in September and he’s true to his word today, he has delivered upon what he listened to and I think that’s crucially important,” she said.

“So I think now is the time for clarity, time for certainty. That’s what the business community here want. It’s been far too long with so much uncertainty.”

Aodhán Connolly, Director Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said there are “some wonderful things” in the EU’s proposal but “there are a lot of things that are going to need some extra detail”.

“The devils in the detail and solutions are only a solution if it’s agreed by both sides so we’re not there yet,” he told RTÉ Radio.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the EU proposals represent a fair accommodation and has urged political leaders to embrace them: “The proposals presented by the European Commission today are significant, they go further than many expected and clearly demonstrate that European leaders are stretching themselves in the interests of people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

“I would encourage political leaders, and particularly the leaders of unionism, to reflect on the very serious efforts made by the European Commission to ease the challenges with trade flows between Northern Ireland and Britain as well as addressing their concerns about democratic deficits,” he said.

Alliance MP Stephen Farry urged that the opportunity presented in the proposals is not squandered.

“We welcome these proposals and look forward to engaging on the details. We hope they can form the basis for agreement between the UK and EU to address the practical issues around the protocol in a pragmatic way,” he said.

“It would be an act of supreme folly to squander this chance to move on and indeed to impose even more delusional red lines.”

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Meanwhile TUV leader Jim Allister rejected the EU proposals contending it “still assets sovereignty over Northern Ireland”.

“The EU’s latest proposals do nothing to counter the all important constitutional dislocation.

“They retain us in a foreign single market for goods, under a foreign customs code and VAT regime, ruled by foreign laws and adjudicated upon by a foreign court.

“None of that would change under the EU’s proposals.

“Thus, they have not addressed the critical issue,” he said.

“GB would continue to be decreed a ‘third country’ vis-a-vis Northern Ireland’s trade.

“That can never be acceptable, because it defies the constitutional integrity of our nation.

“Sovereignty is the crunch issue.

“These proposals utterly fail the sovereignty test.”

- With reporting from PA

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Adam Daly

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