Brexit: Gove tells MPs there will be no ‘EU mini-embassy’ in Belfast
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee hears there are likely to be delays at ports while new checking facilities are being built
Michael Gove: “Because we must all remember if the protocol is to work it must work for the whole community in Northern Ireland.” Photograph: Getty Images
Michael Gove has told MPs that Britain’s deal with the European Union on how to implement the Northern Ireland protocol will prevent export declarations, avoid tariffs and ensure that there will be no “EU mini-embassy” in Belfast.
Outlining the details of the deal in the House of Commons, the cabinet office minister said it guaranteed unfettered access to the British market for Northern businesses, and limited the role of EU officials in overseeing checks on goods arriving from Great Britain.
“And let me be clear, there will be no Belfast ‘mini-embassy’ or mission, as the EU originally sought. And the EU officials will not have any powers to carry out checks themselves. There will instead be sensible practical arrangements, co-operation, reciprocal data-sharing, so that both sides can have confidence in these unique arrangements.
“We also want to leave no doubt about our ongoing commitments to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“We will always work with the interests of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland in mind – as this agreement, and the important flexibilities it will provide, reflects.
“Because we must all remember if the protocol is to work it must work for the whole community in Northern Ireland. And whether it is to be maintained in the future, as the protocol itself sets out, is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide through the democratic-consent mechanism.”
Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves noted that Boris Johnson had promised repeatedly that there would be no checks on goods moving in either direction, and she pointed out that a number of the exemptions were temporary.
“The exemption on agri-food checks is available for only three months, so will the minister tell us what guarantees there are on prices and availability of fresh food supplies in Northern Ireland after April 1st? Will custom checks be required just three months into 2021?
“All that raises the question: did the prime minister actually know what he had signed up to last year, and then give false assurances to the House, or did he simply not care?” she said.
Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s leader at Westminster, said the 1801 Act of Union guaranteed there should be no barrier to trade within the United Kingdom. And he called on the government to make use of the protocol’s provision that allows Britain to take “appropriate safeguard measures” if it leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist.
“Safeguarding the union is not a three-month, six-month or three-year project; it is an enduring commitment. Will [Mr Gove] now give a commitment that, if necessary, the government will introduce safeguard measures to ensure unfettered access in both directions for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?”
Earlier MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee heard that there were likely to be delays at Northern ports while new checking facilities were being built.
Robert Huey, deputy secretary of the veterinary service and animal health group at Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, said arrangements could be lumpy until the new facilities were ready.
“There will now be delays because we don’t have enough bays to ensure that every lorry that comes off a roll-on/roll-off can go to a bay immediately and get checks as required, and they may have to wait until the lorry in front of it is checked.”
The MPs heard that 460 freight units that could require sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks come into Northern Ireland every day.