Viewpoint: NI Protocol - We need help so get on with it

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Those of a certain age may think that’s about that famous talking dog on “That’s Life”, the famous Esther Rantzen TV show, but for those of us dealing with out workings of Brexit it’s pretty much all we’ve heard all week.

The Co-Chairs of the UK/EU Joint Committee to manage the Protocol met this week to talk about its implementation and the experience of business and households. It was an opportunity for them to collectively agree actions to make the Protocol work. Sadly, they failed.

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The preamble to the Protocol makes clear its intent. Both agreed that “the application of this Protocol should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities in both Ireland and Northern Ireland”.

Sausages have become a hot topic due to Brexit and the NI ProtocolSausages have become a hot topic due to Brexit and the NI Protocol
Sausages have become a hot topic due to Brexit and the NI Protocol

But for many that commitment is not their experience as the Brexit friction created by controls in the Irish Sea has meant supply chains have been strained.

Of course, this is the choice which the UK made when it chose one of the hardest versions of Brexit and agreed the first trade deal in history which made business most costly and difficult.

The biggest challenge remains the preparedness and willingness of GB businesses to send components, ingredients and raw materials to our firms and parcels and potted plants to household. When surveyed, more than half of manufacturers said their suppliers remain ill-prepared for the sending of goods to the North but worryingly, 1 in 5 report their GB supplier will no longer send stuff here.

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But equally manufacturers in Derry and across the North report that EU customers and suppliers are struggling to differentiate between the UK and NI too.

46% say they have issues with EU suppliers and almost 1 in 3 say EU sales have been impacted. Goods are not freely circulating in the EUs market as promised.

There is no doubt that the UK needs to step up but equally the EU needs to get its act together too.

However, despite the challenges, our businesses remain committed to making the Protocol work. They recognise the opportunity which it provides and are appealing to the NI Executive to identify and grasp the opportunity which is provided to us. Only 18% say they want the Protocol scrapped.

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Business is clear, the Protocol is the law, we need help to make it work so get on with it.

For them there is a need to quickly agree actions to decompress the politics and provide ‘stability’; an appeal for ‘certainty’ by providing long term weatherproof solutions; for greater ‘simplicity’ on the administrative requirements to move stuff across the Irish Sea; and, to remove costs or provide compensation to ensure ‘affordability’ for families and traders.

Get that right and the ambitions of the Protocol can be achieved, and prosperity can flow which in turn will cement our peace.

And already there are signs that this is within our grasp.

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A year ago, goods sales from the UK to Ireland, up 44% and Invest NI report that they have already had more foreign investment enquiries in the first 3 months of 2021 that any of the last 3 years in full.

In the weeks ahead it may be difficult to find a British Banger on our supermarket shelves but as every Derry family has known since 1830, you can’t beat Doherty’s Sausages anyway!

Stephen Kelly is CEO of Manufacturing NI

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