North’s businesses guardedly welcome UK-EU agreement on Irish Sea trade

Arlene Foster says Northern Ireland must have ‘unfettered access’ to British market

There was a guardedly positive business response in Northern Ireland to the agreement between the British government and the European Union on how the withdrawal agreement will be implemented, but with demands for more clarity on that deal.

The deal also was welcomed by DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster who said that Northern Ireland must have "unfettered access" into the British market.

However, her party colleague, MP Sammy Wilson described the Withdrawal Agreement as “poison”, and said London should not remove powers to override international law until remaining issues are “properly dealt with”.

The British government and EU said they reached agreement in principle on how the Northern Ireland protocol would apply in relation to checks of goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.

The British government said as a result of the Irish Sea trade deal it would withdraw controversial clauses in its Internal Market Bill. Details of the agreement are due to published in the coming days.

Angela McGowan, Northern Ireland director of the Confederation of British Industry said the agreement was a “positive indication both sides are prepared to work together”.

“All eyes will now be on a breakthrough in the wider negotiations,” she said.

“Firms are determined to make the protocol work to protect businesses and consumers. Yet with time so short, details are needed now on what has been agreed so businesses can continue with their preparations – which also rest on a deal being done,” said Ms McGowan.

Unique circumstances

Seamus Leheny from the Freight Transport Association in Northern Ireland welcomed the agreement as a "step forward to getting a protocol that works for everyone, that respects the terms of the single market and the protocol and respects the level playing field.

“But it also takes into account the unique circumstances for Northern Ireland, that is that a lot of our food and [the goods in]our shops come from Great Britain,” he said.

Mr Leheny added that while the detail had yet to be announced, he expected there would be a phased implementation period, a soft touch or period of grace for the importation of chilled foods, and a trusted trader scheme along the lines of that advocated by the supermarkets in order to safeguard food supply chains from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Mr Leheny also said he believed the agreement augured well for the success of a trade deal between the UK and the EU.

The British Irish Chamber of Commerce in also welcoming the agreement urged London and Brussels to redouble their efforts to reach a deal on the future trading relationship.

"It is important that businesses are provided with details of the protocol to ensure they are fully compliant from January 1st," said Paul Lynam, the organisation's director of policy.

“With the issues surrounding the protocol resolved, businesses now urgently need to begin preparing for changes that will come into force from the beginning of next month,” he said.


First Minister Ms Foster said it was important that the detail of how “businesses can trade freely into Great Britain, our largest market,” was provided quickly and hopefully by Wednesday. It also was vital that the large supermarket containers had unfettered access from Britain into Northern Ireland, she added.

Ulster Unionist Part leader Steve Aiken said "no amount of self-congratulatory statements will make up for the disgraceful way Northern Ireland has been treated throughout these negotiations.

“I hope the EU and UK government will now at least have the decency to share this information with local businesses quickly to allow them to prepare for whatever has been agreed,” he said.

Sinn Féin South Down MP Chris Hazzard said more technical detail was needed on how the new trading system would operate.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in welcoming the deal also called for more clarity on how it would work.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times