Nationalists need Amazon ‘just as much as unionists’, says Foster

Comments come ahead of meeting on NI protocol between Sefcovic and Gove

First Minister Arlene Foster. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

First Minister Arlene Foster. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

 

Nationalists in Northern Ireland are suffering from the loss of Amazon supplies because of the Northern Ireland protocol “ just as much as unionists”, First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster has said.

The DUP leader was speaking ahead of a meeting in London today between the European commissioner Maros Sefcovic and UK minister Michael Gove about London’s demands for changes to the protocol.

In a letter published ahead of the meeting, Mr Sefcovic rebuffed the UK’s call to reset the two sides’ relationship, saying Britain needed to honour the promises it made on Northern Ireland as part of the Brexit deal.

Saying that measures the UK previously signed up to “urgently need to be fully and faithfully implemented”, the commissioner rejected Mr Gove’s calls last week for significant alternations to the two-month-old deal.

Speaking on the ITV programme Peston, Ms Foster said: “It’s important that we get these issues solved, and it’s important that we do so soon, very soon.”

The interruptions caused by the operation of the agreed Northern Ireland protocol are affecting consumers as well as manufacturers and importers in Northern Ireland, she said.

“There are now barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of course that’s not acceptable for the greater number of people who live here,” she said.

“I think there is an understanding in government, and I heard the prime minister again on the House of Commons floor responding to one of my MPs today saying that if necessary they would trigger article 16, so I think there is a growing understanding in Downing Street that we need to get these matters sorted.

“It’s hugely important for us here in Northern Ireland right across the community because nationalists aren’t getting their Amazon parcels just as much as unionists aren’t getting their Amazon parcels,” she added.

‘Head in sand’

Asked what she made Mr Sefcovic’s letter, she said: “Well, I wasn’t surprised, because I sat in on the meeting between Michael Gove and Maros Sefcovic last week and it really was an occasion of putting his head in the sand and his fingers in his ears.

“There was complete as if nothing had happened the Friday before in terms of the article 16 triggering by the European Commission, and that we should all just move along and pretend that it hadn’t happened. But worse than that, in his response to Michael Gove this evening, he’s actually asking for more protocols, so the answer to the difficulties with the protocol and the fact that we have this real problem for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – in other words, internally in the UK single market – is actually more protocol,” she said.

Northern Ireland was promised by UK prime minister Boris Johnson that it would have “unfettered access from Great Britain into Northern Ireland and a lot of people remember the prime minister’s words around that and feel it hasn’t happened,” she said.

“In fact, quite the opposite has happened. There are now barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of course that’s not acceptable for the greater number of people who live here.”