No need to ‘ditch’ Northern Ireland protocol, Gove tells MPs
Minister tells Westminster committee issues can be resolved within the agreement
Michael Gove: “There are disruptions and difficulties faced by Northern Ireland citizens in their daily lives that need to be resolved. They can be resolved within the context of the protocol.” Photograph: PRU/AFP via Getty Images
Any problems with the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol can be resolved within the terms of the agreement and without “ditching” it, British cabinet office minister Michael Gove has told MPs.
Speaking to the European scrutiny committee at Westminster ahead of a meeting on Thursday with European Commission vice-president Maros Sevcovic, Mr Gove said there were real difficulties with how the protocol was currently being implemented.
“It’s not working at the moment. It can be made to work. The ultimate decision on whether or not it survives is with the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.
“There are disruptions and difficulties faced by Northern Ireland citizens in their daily lives that need to be resolved. They can be resolved within the context of the protocol. We don’t need to ditch it in order to resolve those issues. But as the prime minister has spelt out, if we can’t make progress in resolving those issues then the UK government has to reserve its rights.”
Mr Gove’s meeting in London this week with Mr Sevcovic, his counterpart on the joint committee overseeing the protocol, follows the British minister’s demand that grace periods affecting some goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland should be extended until 2023.
Mr Gove also demanded that the EU move quickly to resolve problems faced by consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland as a result of new procedures required by the protocol.
The EU complains that Britain has failed to fulfil some of its obligations under the protocol, including sharing data on goods coming into Northern Ireland. But Mr Gove said it could be necessary to “refine” the protocol to address some of its consequences for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
“I think these issues are resolvable. It is the case that the flexibility exists in order to resolve them. The very fact of having a joint committee is an acknowledgement on the EU’s part and indeed on ours that we need to make sure that the operation of the protocol is kept under review and that we refine it in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. So it is possible absolutely to resolve these issues. It remains to be seen of course if we can do so. I hope we can,” he said.
The DUP last week demanded that Boris Johnson should scrap the protocol altogether and the prime minister said he would consider invoking article 16 to suspend parts of it.
But Jessica Glover, director general of the transition task force at the Cabinet Office, told the European scrutiny committee that the protocol was not having any appreciable effect on trade flows to the North.
“Great Britain to Northern Ireland trade flows are back to normal and indeed are slightly higher than they were in the equivalent week last year. So we’re not seeing disruptions to trade flows on that route,” she said.