Talk of Brexit shake-up sparks dismay among NI trade groups
BUSINESS groups that oversee trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK have reacted with dismay following reports that the Government is planning to renege on commitments made to the EU as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
One source at a prominent group described the alleged change in policy as “gaslighting on a grand scale when what Northern Ireland needs is certainty”.
Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, described the changes as “a bolt from the blue”.
Ministers have denied that they are preparing to rip up pledges made to the EU last year if the two sides fail to strike a free-trade agreement within the next five weeks. But according to the Financial Times, the Internal Market Bill, which the Government will publish tomorrow, will end the legal legitimacy of the withdrawal agreement in areas such as customs, state aid and financial assistance. Under the present arrangement, Northern Ireland is meant to adhere to some EU regulations after the transition period ends at the close of this year to prevent a “hard border” on the island of Ireland.
Sterling slipped against the dollar and the euro on the news.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the new legislation was
intended only to provide “limited clarifications” to protect the Northern Ireland peace agreement.
“If we don’t take these steps, we face the prospect of legal confusion at the end of the year and potentially extremely damaging defaults, including tariffs on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland,” he said.
Mr Morris from UK Major Ports Group added: “It can’t be helpful for the clarity required for improving the readiness of businesses – already the Achilles’ heel of border planning.”
Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, said abandoning the agreement would be “a very unwise way to proceed”.
A spokesman for the Northern Ireland business Brexit working group said: “The Northern Ireland protocol is not perfect but it averts some of the worst consequences of a chaotic nonnegotiated outcome. Business continues to ask for the certainty that we need to prepare for the end of the transition in 16 weeks’ time.”
Separately, Liz Truss, the Trade Secretary, has confirmed that trade talks with Canada have begun, as first reported by The Daily Telegraph.
“The aim is to provide continuity for businesses by the end of the transition period,” she tweeted.
“Both the UK and Canada are committed to protecting and strengthening our £19.7bn trading relationship.”