Rebecca Black, PA
The leader of the DUP is to announce the next steps in his party’s campaign to remove the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will be speaking in the Belfast area on Thursday morning as European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic is visiting the North.
Speaking ahead of his speech, Mr Donaldson blasted the protocol as “not just a threat to the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom”, but said the post Brexit arrangements are “having real world impacts on our economy”.
The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a free-flowing land border on the island of Ireland. It achieves that by moving many of the checks and processes required on goods to the Irish Sea.
Under the arrangements, Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods and continues to apply EU customs rules.
Unionists in the North have been vehemently opposed to its terms which see additional checks on goods arriving to the region from the rest of the UK. Loyalists have staged a series of demonstrations while unionists have taken legal action against it.
Earlier this week, the UK government announced it was unilaterally extending a variety of grace periods to further delay full implementation of aspects of the protocol.
The government said the move was to create space to reach an agreement with the EU on some of the ongoing sticking points.
Mr Donaldson stressed the protocol is “not just a unionist problem”.
“Senior economist at the University of Ulster Business School, Dr Esmond Birnie recently suggested that the cost of the Northern Ireland protocol could be in the region of £850 million (€992 million) per year,” he said.
“That is money we simply cannot afford to lose. And though I am alarmed by the constitutional implications of the protocol, it is assuredly not simply a unionist issue. In recent days Marks & Spencer chairman Archie Norman warned that customers in Northern Ireland could face a “substantial reduction in food supply” and price increases later this year.”
Mr Donaldson said he welcomed the recent publication of the UK’s command paper as a “step in the right direction”, but he added: “in the absence of actual progress, we cannot remain in this political limbo”.
This is not simply a question of limiting checks at the border or moving the checks from the border.
“There are three key issues – movement of goods, standards and governance. It is essential that all are addressed,” he said.
“This is not simply a question of limiting checks at the border or moving the checks from the border.
“It must mean that, save for the most limited circumstances, EU law would not apply in Northern Ireland.
“And it must mean that where there is a dispute, we are not being asked to argue our case in front of a judicial system created by one of the parties to that dispute.”
The DUP, under previous leader Arlene Foster, previously announced a campaign to ditch the protocol.
In February, it vowed to actively oppose any negative measures, laws or bills that flowed from the protocol and undermined the North’s place in the UK internal market.
The party also said it will not participate in any talks with the Irish Government related to the protocol, warning that north-south relations would be “impacted”.
Meanwhile, Mr Sefcovic is expected to hold a series of meetings in the North on Thursday during his visit.