“We need education on the NI Protocol”, says County Antrim business leader

Published by Scott Challinor on June 27th 2022, 3:03am

As the UK government prepares to bring its Northern Ireland Protocol Bill back to Parliament on Monday for its second reading, one Northern Irish business leader has called for greater education around the Protocol and how it can benefit local businesses.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is the mechanism within the Brexit deal between the UK and EU which prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU single market and customs union and regulating how goods enter Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The Protocol has introduced new goods checks at Northern Ireland’s ports on some goods coming from Great Britain, a development which has effectively created a trade border in the Irish Sea.

Unionists have been angered by this development, which they say leads to extra costs and paperwork and places Northern Ireland at the periphery of the UK.

As an act of protest against the Protocol, following the recent Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] has refused to re-enter a power-sharing government with the largest party, Irish nationalists Sinn Féin, until their concerns around it are addressed.

This has left Northern Ireland without a functioning government, prompting Westminster to bring forward a new Bill which will enable the UK government to take unilateral action that will override parts of the Protocol. This move has, however, been met with backlash from both the Irish government and EU.

The EU believes that unilateral action would breach international law, while the UK believes it would be acting legally based on the fact that the Protocol is contributing to social unrest in Northern Ireland by indirectly preventing a devolved government from forming.

Unilateral action would change the workings of the Protocol to make it easier for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to pass through frictionless if they are not destined to proceed into the neighbouring Republic.

While the UK government holds out some hope for a “negotiated solution” with the EU, Stuart Penrose, the owner of Copper Ridge Systems Ltd and About-Them, two businesses based in Carrickfergus, County Antrim in Northern Ireland, has called for greater education on the Protocol and its benefits, while stressing the need for certainty for Northern Irish businesses moving forward.

Calling on Westminster and the EU to provide that certainty, Penrose said: “I think what we need here in Northern Ireland is education on the Protocol. It’s one of those glass half empty glass half full scenarios and you can look at it both ways. We need education on the benefits of the Protocol certainly, because a lot of the press here will be looking at it from a traditional viewpoint. So, one side of the community wants to welcome it and the other obviously feels it creates a disconnection from the UK market.

“Small businesses need to know how they can benefit but there are certainly creases in the system that need to be ironed out. I can see a solution to the problems that people perceive to be there. We have a footprint into Europe, and we have to look at the benefits of that. If we can just iron out the creases, we can capitalise on those benefits. The biggest crime in business in uncertainty in the market moving forward and that’s what we have at the moment.

“What I’d like to see over the coming months is for us to get a grip on the Protocol. I’d really like to see some certainty filtering down from Westminster and here from the local government in Northern Ireland to give us some foundation moving forward that’s not going to chop and change.”

MPs will vote on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in the House of Commons on Monday [June 27].

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
June 27th 2022, 3:03am

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