By James Ward, PA
Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan has welcomed the UK’s extension to the so-called Brexit grace periods on trading arrangements for the region.
UK Brexit minister Lord Frost confirmed on Monday that the UK government will continue its “current basis” approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol, as he looks to secure concessions from Brussels on how the cross-border terms are operated.
The announcement, which had been hinted at by Downing Street, commits to another grace period rollover, enacted to ensure there are no further blockages to trade across the Irish Sea next month.
Mr Givan, of the DUP, has welcomed the announcement, but said it is “not the solution”.
He said: “I welcome the unilateral action that the United Kingdom Government has taken in respect of extending the grace periods, and no longer is there a fixed date being applied to that.
“There is now an indefinite timeframe in respect of those grace periods taking place. So that will help.”
He added: “Ultimately, it’s not the solution in terms of having the certainty that is required for the business community as well.
“But they know the type of framework that they have to operate and the DUP is very clear, in terms of the implications of the protocol.
“Jeffrey Donaldson will be outlining this in a keynote address later in the week, and the party will be spelling out the actions that we’re going to be taking to make sure that we get the kind of progress that is necessary.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has called on Lord Frost to take a collaborative approach with the European Commission to ensure the smooth implementation of the protocol.
Junior minister at the NI Executive Office, Declan Kearney, said Lord Frost, as the man who negotiated the protocol, “knows what needs to be done to ensure that we have smooth operation of the protocol”.
Mr Kearney, standing in for Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill who is recovering from Covid, acknowledged there are “a number of issues that remain to be resolved in terms of the smooth operation of the protocol”.
He said the flow of medicines into Northern Ireland was one such issue, and that “work is taking place behind the scenes to ensure that we address that particular issue”.
He added: “I think that the European Commission have become increasingly sighted and sensitised to the fact that there are a number of anomalies and difficulties that need to be smoothed out.
“The next stage and all of that, then, is to ensure that there is a landing zone in terms of political willingness, and that requires unanimity of purpose by both the European Commission and the British Government.
“And I think that David Frost now must state very clearly that he is prepared to invest the level of political willingness that is required to ensure that we get a collaborative resolution to all of these difficulties.
“He hasn’t said that yet. I would urge him to do so.”
Mr Kearney said a visit by European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic to Northern Ireland this week represents an “opportunity” to work out issues related to the protocol.
The protocol effectively keeps the North in the EU’s single market for goods, avoiding a hard border with Ireland but creating additional bureaucratic barriers for goods crossing from Great Britain.
Speaking before Lord Frost’s announcement, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he expected an extension to the current grace periods.
“I think there is a high probability that it will happen, we are certainly open to it,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Mr Varadkar said he expected the EU would agree to an extension in order to allow “deep and meaningful” talks about the protocol.