Need to address concerns with NI protocol not scrap it, Long says

UUP leader calls for rights for Northern executive to negotiate its own trade agreements

An anti-Brexit sign near the entrance to Larne Port. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

An anti-Brexit sign near the entrance to Larne Port. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has said concerns with the Northern Ireland protocol needed to be addressed rather than calls being made for the Brexit measure to be scrapped.

“That’s not going to happen,” she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

It was important to address the problems with the protocol, it was not helpful to have some “whipping up and stirring up resentment” in the community.

With regard to threats to staff working at the ports at Larne and Belfast, which saw some staff being withdran this week, Ms Long said it was important to listen and rely on the evidence from the PSNI. She said she understood the concerns of council staff and that they could get back to work now that the concerns had been addressed by the PSNI.

It was important to put in place measures so those people could go to work and not be threatened. The protocol was a symptom not the cause of Brexit, she said. “We’re trying to identify the areas of particular difficulty to find solutions.”

Undemocratic

Earlier Ulster Unionist party leader Steve Aiken called for rights for the Northern Ireland executive to negotiate its own trade agreements. It was “unacceptable and undemocratic” that the executive did not have a position on any of the committees negotiating deals.

Last week had been a tipping point when the EU invoked Article 16 and had effectively tried to use vaccines bound for Northern Ireland through Dublin Port as part of a trade war between the EU and pharmaceutical companies, he said.

“It was despicable,” he told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.

There was a whole procedure that should have been followed through committees involving a timeline, none of which was done, he said, “just so Northern Ireland could be used as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations.”

Mr Aiken, who pointed out that he had been in favour of the remain campaign, said he was not sure where British prime minister boris Johnson was on the issue.

“I’m not really sure where Boris Johnson is on this, quite frankly, Boris Johnson is an opportunist.”

Mr Aiken said it was offensive for Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to “come on air here and say we needed to own it (protocol).”

Real damage was being done to the Northern Ireland economy now, he said. “The real issue is that Northern Ireland has no say in what’s happening to our economy. There are people from the Northern Ireland Executive on the committees, we have no voting rights. No say in how the rules are implemented.”

It was “quite clear” that the protocol was going to collapse “on its own inconsistencies,” he warned.

“If we need to own it then give us the mechanism to do that.”

Further discussions are to take place between the UK and the EU next week aimed at finding solutions to disruption to trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Taoiseach is expected to speak to Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and the Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, on Friday.