Cleverly to address protocol issues which ‘risk and undermine’ NI’s place in UK
By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said post-Brexit trading issues which “risk and undermine” Northern Ireland’s place within the UK must be addressed.
Mr Cleverly was speaking as he prepared to meet with political and business leaders in Belfast to discuss the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris will also take part in the talks which the government hopes will help to break the Stormont powersharing deadlock.
Devolution in Northern Ireland has been in flux since last February when the DUP, the region’s largest unionist party, withdrew its First Minister from the ministerial executive in protest at the protocol.
The party has made clear it will not allow a return to powersharing until radical changes to the protocol are delivered.
It claims the treaty has undermined Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom by creating economic barriers on trade entering the region from Great Britain.
However, earlier this week progress between the EU and the UK on post-Brexit data-sharing was hailed as a positive step in ongoing talks to find a solution to the row.
The latest developments in the protocol negotiations and the political stalemate will be on the agenda when Mr Cleverly and Mr Heaton-Harris meet Stormont party leaders in Belfast.
The ministers will also meet business groups as part of their efforts to understand the impact the protocol has had on trade. The Government said these meetings would help inform ongoing talks with the EU.
Their visit will include a tour of Saintfield Garden Centre and Nursery.
Mr Cleverly said: “My preference is for a negotiated solution, but the UK’s priority is protecting the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement and preserving political stability in Northern Ireland.”
“I am listening to the concerns of people and businesses in Northern Ireland and am keenly aware that the current situation isn’t working.”
“We need to address those issues with the protocol that risk and undermine the place of NI in the UK.”
Mr Heaton-Harris said: “A solution to the problems created by the Northern Ireland Protocol is clearly desired by all across business and in government.”
“As the Foreign Secretary has said, the Government is committed to resolving these problems as soon as possible.”
“I am firmly of the belief too that what people in Northern Ireland want most is to see their elected politicians back at work.”
“Accountable political leadership is fundamental to secure a sustainable future for all in NI.”
The visit follows Mr Cleverly’s meeting with Vice President of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, on Monday, where they reached an agreement on the way forward regarding the EU’s access to UK IT systems that provide live information about what goods are moving across from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Later in the week, Northern Ireland political leaders are due to hold separate talks with Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.