Talk of Brexit shake-up sparks dis­may among NI trade groups

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By Lizzy Bur­den

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.”

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