Brexit agreement has 'real teeth' says Ursula von der Leyen
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The UK and European Union are locked in a dispute over trading relationships in Northern Ireland and there appears to be no end in sight to the row. Problems remain over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol – a mechanism created to prevent a hard physical land border on the island of Ireland.
The legislation ties Belfast to the EU’s regulatory framework and now effectively puts a trade border down the Irish Sea – cutting Northern Ireland away from the rest of Great Britain.
European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen has refused to budge on the arrangements and this week said there is “no alternative”.
However, a former Brexit Party MEP has claimed the bloc is overplaying the problems at the border in order to take control of Northern Ireland.
James Wells insists the scale of the issue in Northern Ireland is “tiny” in the grand scheme of trade between the UK and EU.
He insisted much of the hurdles can be overcome with some light regulations, such as checks at locations away from ports and trusted trader schemes.
Mr Wells, a former head of trade and inflation at the ONS, points out trade flowing between Northern Ireland and Ireland is around £5billion.
This is less than one percent of the trade between the UK and EU – which equates to around £650billion.
Mr Wells told Express.co.uk: “You can install light regulation in Ireland on the border.
“It’s not insurmountable, we could have done that, like I said, that fact that it is less than one percent of the trade.
“Even if you did not have any regulation, the size of the problem you are talking about is tiny.
“So with some light regulation, no border infrastructure, but some checking locations away from the border and trusted trader schemes, this really should not have been the problem that it is.
“And it is not a problem, this has been done purposely by the EU and Ireland, not so much to punish us for Brexit, but to take advantage of Brexit and to take Northern Ireland off us.”
Mr Wells also criticised the protocol for being enforced without approval from both communities.
He also argues in its current form it undermines the Union and Good Friday Agreement.
The new raft of checks at the ports of Belfast and Larne have been in place since January and has contributed to the growing political unrest in Northern Ireland.
Unionists and loyalist groups have taken to the streets in recent months over fears Northern Ireland is being separated from the rest of the UK.
The Loyalist Communities Council wrote a letter to the Prime Minister to inform him the group will remove support for Good Friday Agreement, a move Mr Wells has described as an “extremely worrying development”.
Brexit Minister Lord Frost and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič are co-chairs of the EU-UK Joint Committee and remain in contact over a solution.
At the EU Council earlier this week, Ms Von der Leyen blamed the UK leaving the European Union for the current issues in Northern Ireland.
She insists the protocol is needed to protect the EU single market, but stated the bloc would also be “exploring practical solutions to help to minimise the disruptions”.
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Ms von der Leyen said: “The beginnings are not easy, tensions are being felt around the access, for example, of EU fishing boats, or tensions are without any doubt there around the implementation of the protocol of Northern Ireland.
“And I think it is important to reiterate that the protocol is the only possible solution to ensure peace and stability in Northern Ireland while protecting the integrity of the European Union’s single market.
“If we see problems today we should not forget that they do not come from the protocol but they result from Brexit. That is the reason why the problems are there.
“Now, it’s our common duty with the United Kingdom to do whatever we can to reduce tensions in Northern Ireland and that is why we are exploring practical solutions to help to minimise the disruptions to the everyday life in Northern Ireland.”
Responding in the House of Lords, Lord Frost told peers: “I think it is hugely disappointing, in spite of everything that has happened.”
He added: “The fact that there are more checks from Great Britain into Northern Ireland than there are in Rotterdam; that still the European Union and the European Commission have had a tin ear to the concerns and the absolutely genuine concerns of the people in Northern Ireland.”
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