Northern Ireland Protocol problems significant and growing, minister warns

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By Ben Hatton and Richard Wheeler, PA

Problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol are “significant” and “growing”, the UK Government has said.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis told MPs the UK has approached the arrangement in “good faith” but he expressed concerns over how it is operating.

The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a free-flowing land border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

Unionists in Northern Ireland have been vehemently opposed to its terms, which see additional checks on goods arriving to the region from the rest of the UK.

Speaking at Cabinet Office questions, Mr Ellis said: “As we set out in our July command paper, the protocol is not meeting its core objectives as it stands. It is causing considerable disruption to lives and livelihoods.

“That is why we need to find a new balance through significant changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol and we are working intensively to that end.”

Labour MP Ruth Jones (Newport West) said the EU and the US have “expressed serious concerns and reservations about the current practical arrangements” and said of the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement with the EU: “The deal may have been ‘oven-ready’, but did someone forget to turn the gas on?”

Mr Ellis replied: “We have tried to operate the protocol in good faith, but the problems are significant and the problems are growing.

“The Northern Ireland Executive noted that from January to March, about 20% of all of the European Union’s checks were being conducted in respect of Northern Ireland, even though Northern Ireland’s population is just 0.5% of the EU as a whole.

“It’s unacceptable. And I think those are the sort of problems about which she ought to focus.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this week warned that the post-Brexit issues with Northern Ireland “can’t go on forever”.

Brexit minister Lord Frost has also argued that the threshold of triggering Article 16 of the protocol, which would effectively tear up parts of the deal he negotiated, has been met.

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