The solution is Mutual Enforcement – both sides trusting each other to enforce the other’s trading rules
The chief architect of the 1998 Belfast peace agreement has issued an impassioned appeal to Joe Biden to abandon his support for the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Lord Trimble, who won the Nobel prize for helping to bring 30 years of vicious sectarian bloodshed and terrorism to an end, has written to the US President warning him that his Administration risks “causing civic unrest and political uncertainty” and “damaging the Northern Ireland economy”.
He deplores its continued backing for intransigent EU dominance over the terms of trade between mainland Britain and the Province. It has “subverted the main safeguards within the Belfast Agreement”.
The former First Minister of Northern Ireland’s personal letter to Mr Biden comes after the G7 Summit in June in Cornwall where the President was said to have warned Boris Johnson against inflaming tensions in Northern Ireland. The President questioned the Prime Minister’s efforts to replace the NIP with arrangements that would eliminate EU-imposed severe obstacles to the free movement of goods and agri-products between the mainland and the six counties.
There have been countless reports in recent months that the EU’s relentless enforcement of its rulebook has led to empty supermarket shelves in the Province and inflicted severe damage on the country’s struggling economy.
The NIP, agreed under duress by the Johnson government in 2019, imposes an effective border in the Irish Sea between the mainland and Northern Ireland, meaning that a foreign power – Brussels – has been granted the right to regulate and impede trade within the sovereign boundaries of the UK.
The Prime Minister and his chief Brexit minister Lord Frost have made it increasingly clear in recent months that they regard the NIP as unacceptable and want it replaced. So far, the UK has avoided a major trade crisis for Ulster by repeatedly using its powers to waive the most onerous interpretation of the rules by the EU, but these extended periods of grace are due to run out at the end of September.
In his letter, Lord Trimble expresses his “concern” at the way the Belfast Agreement is being “undermined” by the NIP and the role the US President, who has Irish roots, is playing in furthering the “damage” being done to the peace deal by his devotion to the Protocol.
His intervention comes against the background of a forensic report by the leading think-tank the Centre for Brexit Policy. It argues in a 38-page report compiled by a team of trade and legal experts that there is an elegant and simple way out of the impasse – a deal between Brussels and London that both sides will trust one another to apply the other’s rules to the movement of goods – known as Mutual Enforcement.
This deal would remove any need for borders, either on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea, and would allow free passage without laborious paperwork and delays.
Lord Trimble bluntly tells the US President: “The Northern Ireland Protocol has not only subverted the main safeguards within the Belfast Agreement causing civic unrest and political uncertainty, it is also damaging the Northern Ireland economy disrupting supply chains, inflating prices and diverting trade from our main market in Great Britain.”
“At the heart of the Belfast Agreement is consent, meaning that there can be no change to the constitutional position of NI as part of the UK without the agreement of a majority of the people of the country. But the NIP, by giving the EU powers over the movement of goods into and out of the Province, has torpedoed the ‘consent’ principle and risks a return to sectarian strife.”
Lord Trimble writes to Mr Biden: “The NIP totally destroyed this consent principle to the detriment of the unionist community.”
“First of all it represents a massive change on the constitutional status of NI. No longer will laws applicable in NI relating to agricultural practices, product standards, environmental codes, and labour regulations be made by the UK Parliament or even the NI Assembly. They will be made by the EU and imposed by the European Court of Justice.
“This monumental constitutional change has been imposed on the people of NI without seeking their consent and against the manifest opposition of every unionist party and politician in NI.
“The result has been political unrest and violence and threats of further violence on our streets because the political promises of the Belfast Agreement have been flippantly dismissed through the NIP.
“Not only has the NIP impacted on community relations in NI it is doing great damage to the NI economy. The extensive checks on trade between GB and NI, which is internal UK trade, has discouraged many firms from trading with NI, created added costs and time delays for those who do, and increased the cost of doing such business.”
“The result has been inflationary pressures which have damaged competitiveness, loss of customers because of uncertainty and delays, empty supermarket shelves, and reduced choice for consumers.”
“Trade with countries like Russia is now easier to undertake than trade with the rest of our own country because of the NIP.”
“One food supplier has recently revealed that a lorry load of supplies destined for its stores in NI will have 700 pages of documentation to pass EU imposed checks for goods coming into NI from GB.”
In his letter, Lord Trimble urges Mr Biden to embrace Mutual Enforcement.
“Mutual Enforcement respects both the integrity of the EU Single Market and the independent sovereignty of the UK voted for by the British people in the referendum in 2016.”
“It involves both the EU and the UK mutually enforcing each other’s rules, regulations, and taxes for companies exporting into each other’s territory.”
“Any company operating out of NI would be required to declare that it had met all the obligations contained in EU law when selling goods to the Republic of Ireland. Any breach of that obligation would be followed up by the authorities in the UK and breaches would carry severe penalties as an effective disincentive to break that obligation.”
“The EU authorities would do the same for goods being exported from the Republic of Ireland to NI. This avoids the needs for border checks while at the same time safeguarding the integrity of the EU internal market.”
Click here to read the report.